The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB

By Christopher Andrew; Vasili Mitrokhin | Go to book overview

TWENTY - TWO
SPECIAL TASKS
Part 1: From Marshal Tito to Rudolf Nureyev

Assassination had been an integral part of Stalin's foreign policy. During the late 1930s he had been obsessed with NKVD operations to liquidate Trotsky and his leading foreign supporters. The final act of his foreign policy before he died in 1953 was a plan to assassinate Josip Tito, who had succeeded Trotsky as the leading heretic of the Soviet Bloc.

At the height of the Terror, Tito (born Josip Broz) had, ironically, been one of the few leading Yugoslav Communists (most then living in exile in Moscow) who were trusted by the NKVD. On becoming secretary general of the purged Yugoslav Party in 1937, he had dutifully denounced his persecuted and liquidated comrades, in impeccable Stalinist invective, as Trotskyists, traitors, factionalists, spies and anti- Party elements. He apologized personally to Stalin for his own lack of vigilance in choosing as his first wife a woman who had since been unmasked as an (imaginary) Gestapo agent. When Tito became wartime leader of the Communist partisans, an NKVD agent, Josip Kopiniĉ, codenamed VAZHDUH ("Air"), acted as his radio link with Moscow.1 At the end of the war, the NKGB resident, Saveli Vladimirovich Burtakov (codenamed LIST), presented the head of Tito's Bureau of People's Protection, Alexander-Leka Rankoviĉ, with a portrait of Stalin. Apparently deeply moved, Rankoviĉ (codenamed MARKO by the Centre) replied that it was the most precious gift he could possibly have received.2 There was no sign yet of the violent confrontation between Tito and Stalin which was to erupt only three years later. Despite his own subsequent loathing for Stalinism, the leading Yugoslav communist Milovan Djilas later acknowledged:

The fact is that not a single Party leader was anti-Soviet--not before the war, not during, not after . . . Stalin and the Soviet Union were our corner-stone and point of spiritual origin . . .3]

There were already signs by the end of the war, however, that Tito (codenamed OREL ("Eagle") by the Centre) would be less sycophantic to Moscow than most other leaders of the emerging Soviet Bloc. Unlike other Bloc members, the Yugoslav partisans had defeated the Germans and Italians chiefly through their own efforts

-355-

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