In the media, the second week is discussed by the mysterious poisoning of ex-colonel GRU Sergey Skripal, in which the British authorities accuse Russia. In the 2000s, Skripal transmitted to British intelligence services data on Russian intelligence in Europe. He was discovered and convicted, but in 2010 he was exchanged for spies from Vienna. Since then, he lived in England, along with his family, and in early March 2018 he was poisoned by unknown people. The police said that the nerve agent, presumably of Russian design, was used for the attack.
The story of Skripal is one of many in the series of historical confrontation between the special services of the USSR, and then Russia and the West. In addition to explicit analogies with the “Litvinenko case”, the Western media drawparallels with Oleg Penkovsky, one of the largest Soviet defectors of the Cold War. In 2018, exactly 55 years have passed since the Penkovsky trial.
Meetings under supervision
In the fall of 1962, KGB operatives conducted outdoor surveillance of the wife of the second secretary of the British Embassy, Janet Chisholm. According to information obtained through intelligence, the Chizholm spouses were not just diplomats, but had close ties with the British special services.
Chizholm loved to walk around Moscow, so when she disappeared in the entrance of the house in the city center, it did not cause operatives to suspect. A minute later an unfamiliar man came into the entrance of the house. A few minutes later both Chizhholm and the stranger left the entrance with the same frequency: first a woman, then a man.
During the observations of Chisholm, it was found out that meetings with the same person in different entrances in the city center occur regularly. When the operatives followed the man, they were surprised to find that he had disappeared behind the door of the Foreign Relations Department of the State Committee for the Coordination of Scientific Research under the Council of Ministers of the USSR. Observations showed that the Deputy Director of Science and Technology, GRU Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, visited the meetings with Chisolm.
Career from the GRU
Career graduate of the Kiev Artillery School Oleg Penkovsky began in the Great Patriotic War. Thanks to his work in the Political Department of the Moscow Military District, he acquired connections and quickly moved on. In 1944, Penkovsky met with the future chief marshal of artillery Sergei Varentsov – he took a young and ambitious political instructor adjutant.
Penkovsky was not a “loggerhead”: at the end of the war he commanded a regiment and received several awards, including the Order of the Red Banner. After the war, the 31-year-old officer received the rank of colonel, retrained and went to the General Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff.
In 1955, Penkovsky was sent to Ankara to work in the Soviet embassy: Turkey was an important strategic direction for Soviet intelligence after the country joined NATO in 1952. Working in the embassy could open up new prospects for the colonel, but things went differently. As later claimed by the Soviet authorities, Penkovsky behaved in an unbridled manner and speculated with jewelry. For this he was recalled from Turkey and fired from the GRU, but a few years later restored. Probably thanks to old ties with Varentsov and the connivance of the new chairman of the GRU, Ivan Serov.
Over time, Penkovsky began to engage in scientific and technical work and got to the State Committee for Science and Technology. The work of the department consisted in establishing international contacts in the scientific community: the State Committee employees traveled abroad and often met with foreign specialists and businessmen in the USSR.
Hot Cold War time
May 1, 1960, while in Moscow was a traditional military parade, in the sky over Sverdlovsk shot down an American reconnaissance aircraft. The pilot Francis Powers escaped, ignoring the instructions for the destruction of technology and suicide, but was captured. In the hands of the USSR were irrefutable evidence of aggressive espionage by the United States.
A month later a man approached a group of American students in Moscow and asked them to send a letter to the US Embassy. In the note he described the details of the capture of the pilot Powers, who did not disclose the Soviet authorities. The letter ended with a proposal for cooperation. When Penkovsky’s message was received by foreign intelligence officers, they realized that they were contacted not just by an operative, but by a person with access to classified information.
You are addressed by your great friend who has now become your soldier, a fighter for the ideals of a true free world and democracy …
It is impossible to unequivocally answer the question what prompted Penkovsky to commit treason. , a specialist on the history of state security bodies Nikita Petrov said that Penkovsky loved money, a beautiful life and was not an ideological defector. American researcher Gerald Shector in the book “The Spy Who Saved the World” , on the contrary, considered Colonel GRU a hero inspired by the idea of preventing nuclear war.
Basically, Russian journalists and historians repeat the description from the courtroom, in which the Soviet officer was presented as a vicious and vengeful careerist, harboring a grudge against the USSR. Among the unusual versions of betrayal is the version that Penkovsky took revenge for his father, an officer of the White Army who was shot in the Civil War.
In late 1960, representatives of British intelligence told Penkovsky that they were ready to discuss cooperation. The link between MI6 and future agent was Greville Wynne – an English businessman who worked in the USSR and is closely connected with intelligence.
The first meeting of the Soviet colonel with the CIA and MI6 officers was held in April 1961 in London, where Penkovsky left as a member of a delegation of Soviet specialists. British and American agents discussed with the Soviet officer the terms of cooperation, gave the informant a micro-camera, film and encrypted notebooks, encryption keys for transmitting information and contact contacts in Moscow. At the same time Penkovsky gave the first information about the service in the GRU and for many hours mastered special equipment. First, he was given a code pseudonym Alex (“Alex”), and a year later Hero (“Hero”).
Thanks to old connections with Varentsov, upon his return to Moscow Penkovsky got access to the secret library of the GRU. He fixed the necessary documents on microfilm and kept records in encrypted notebooks. For their transfer, he used the entrances of residential buildings – the colonel exchanged documents with a coherent, hiding them in radiators of heating. The wife of an employee of the British Embassy, Giannet Chisholm, acted as a liaison. Here Penkovsky was pierced – the KGB knew about the work of Chizhholm on British intelligence and had long been following her and her husband.
Although in 1961 Penkovsky accidentally fell into the field of view of the “outdoor”, he continued to work for Western special services and regularly traveled abroad. In total, he visited England and France three times, where he met with representatives of MI6 and the CIA.
During each meeting, the officer spent dozens of hours handing over information about the Soviet system, the structure of the GRU, the military plans of the General Staff, and showed the location of the mines of Soviet ballistic missiles on the map. During the work, he handed over to foreign agents 111 films with photos of 5,500 documents with a total volume of 7650 pages.
Important information from the colonel was received by Americans on the eve of the Caribbean crisis in 1962. He convinced the CIA that Khrushchev was bluffing, and the Soviet missile arsenal was not ready for battle and was inferior to the analogues of the United States. Thanks to Penkovsky’s information, the Americans identified Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Moreover, based on the information of the officer, the CIA predicted that Khrushchev expects from Washington a direct invasion of Cuba. The Americans trusted the Soviet informant: a year before Penkovsky had told about the decision to build the Berlin Wall, but the information came to the British and Americans too late, and they could not adequately respond to this challenge.
In October 1962, after a short crisis, risking to lead to a nuclear war, the USSR and the US agreed on detente. Moscow removed the missiles delivered to Cuba, and the Americans took their supplies from Turkey.
Money, glory, queen
On the material interests of Penkovsky information varies. Foreign services paid him for information, but did it in absentia: he could get access to money only after fleeing the USSR. According to the version of the creators of the documentary film about Penkovsky, he did not plan to withdraw, and when he was once given 3,000 rubles, very offended.
historian Nikita Petrov said that Penkovsky had a material interest and he did not hide it. “In addition to money that was abroad, he received funds for operational costs,” – says the expert. Details about the monetary interest of the officer Gerald Shector writes : allegedly the spy had debts and he traded with the British on the amount of payments.
Penkovsky liked to feel his own importance for foreign intelligence: he even demanded a meeting with the queen, prime minister, or head of the British Defense Staff. He did not achieve this, but he was promised a high rank in any army he liked. During one of the trips he was given a British and American military uniform, which he tried on. During the trial of the officer, this fact causedgreat indignation.
Court, case, execution
According to the information of former KGB agents and FSB, the operation to collect evidence against the colonel is considered a textbook example of the work of state security agencies. First Penkovsky installed an external surveillance, then a wiretapper and photographic fixing equipment around his apartment and office.
In October 1962, the KGB operatives detained Penkovsky. About a month later, an officer Grevill Wynne was arrested in Hungary and involved in the recruitment.
The first of the investigation against the colonel suffered indirect figurants of the case: an old Penkovsky friend Sergei Varentsov was removed from office and lowered to the rank of four steps, and the former head of the GRU Ivan Serov lost the title, position and Golden Star of the Hero of the USSR. For both, it was the end of a career.
The trial of Penkovsky and Wynne was widely covered in the Soviet press, he was motivated by documentary films and recorded radio programs. In the press published letters, with the requests of Soviet workers to punish the traitor of the Motherland, and in the reports from the courtroom described Penkovsky in the most unflattering manner.
At the trial, Penkovsky behaved calmly, clearly answered questions and helped the investigation. It is difficult to say that he was promised a softening of the sentence in return for tractability. Penkovsky’s membership of the GRU in court was not reported. In May 1963, Greville Wynne was sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage. Penkovsky, who had gone from an adjutant general in the Great Patriotic War to the rank of colonel in the GRU, was sentenced to death. A week later, a short report appeared in the newspaper Pravda:
The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR rejected the petition for clemency for Penkovsky OV, sentenced by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR for treason to the death penalty – execution.
The sentence is carried out.
Estimates of Penkovsky’s activities vary. In the West, he is considered one of the main agents of the times of confrontation with the USSR. Allegedly, thanks to the information received from Moscow, Kennedy was able to make the right decisions in the course of the Caribbean crisis and prevent the outbreak of a nuclear war.
In the USSR and in Russia Penkovsky was entrenched in the form of an anti-hero who betrayed his homeland and did not deserve to be rehabilitated. This is the position of the creators of the documentary about Colonel Penkovsky, the names of some of the books in which his story appears (“Judas in epaulets”, “Werewolves from military intelligence: nine betrayals of GRU officers”) speak of this. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, speculative conspiracy theories emerged about the life and death of the colonel.
One of the theories represents a GRU officer as a double or triple agent, who did not work for Western special services, but still served for the benefit of the Motherland. Allegedly Penkovsky was needed in order to transfer to the West exactly what was beneficial to the Soviet Union. Supporters of this theory (among them journalist and ex-State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein) do not believe in Penkovsky’s execution, but argue that he was helped with new documents and appearance, and he died much later.
The most unusual theory related to the Penkovsky case was the reference to the brutal execution of the Soviet Colonel GRU in the book of the famous defector and former GRU official Vladimir Rezun (Viktor Suvorov). The book describes in detail the scene of the burning of a man alive. Her record shows the protagonist, after which he decides to find out what is happening on the film.
– He who? – I myself do not know why I ask this question.
– Is he? Colonel. The former colonel. He was in our organization. At high posts. He deceived the organization. For this he was expelled from the organization.
For a long time the description of the brutal execution was connected with Penkovsky, even though Suvorov-Rezun himself several times refuted this version.
None of the hypotheses about the true state of affairs around the Penkovsky case, which occur in various sources, is not documented. The archives and investigation of the colonel is classified even 55 years after the execution. historian Nikita Petrov explained that in the near future the situation is unlikely to change. This is due to the complexity of Russian legislation, which protects secrets and after half a century. Apparently, the life and death of the Soviet defector will continue to cause questions from researchers and journalists.