Russians should consider the thoughts of a former GRU head of the “Special Tasks” department, responsible for assassinations. Since Pavel Sudoplatov is no longer alive, some of his words are reproduced here. Sudoplatov was gravely concerned with the misuse of poisons, of which he was himself accused.
For the benefit of Western readers, Pavel Sudoplatov was a military intelligence officer under Stalin , a direct subordinate of Lavrentiy Beria. He was responsible for the assassinations of Leon Trotsky, personally liquidated Ukrainian nationalist Yevhen Konovalets, as well as other liquidations involving poisons. His responsibilities also included sabotage and unconventional warfare, during and after World War II.
With the fall of Beria, Sudoplatov was arrested, tried, and imprisoned, the inevitable result of having been Beria’s subordinate. As the Soviet leadership distanced from Stalin’s terror, Sudoplatov became a special object of fear, because his unit had been one of the principal clients of Grigory Mairanovsky’s state poison laboratory, the products of which were always tested on human subjects. In his struggle for rehabilitation, Sudoplatov showed that he never controlled the poison laboratory, that his use of poisons was always with the authorization of the Soviet leadership, and that all such uses were documented.
His 1994 autobiography, Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness—A Soviet Spymaster, coauthored with his son Anatoli, (Little, Brown, ISBN 0-316-77352-2) reveals a thoughtful man who one might have wished as a friend, caught up in and deceived by a brutal system. It is a common failing not to understand the times you live in. Sudoplatov’s comprehension came later, during his imprisonment. The result is one of stunning insight.
On page 283 of the English edition, Sudoplatov considers questions that should be of interest to all Russians:
- Do poisons have legitimate use by the security services?
- Can the use be subject to effective controls to prevent abuse?
- Should poisons be used for executions outside the criminal code?
I have taken the liberty of quoting two lengthy paragraphs from page 283, because the best advice to Russia comes from Russia. Sudoplatov is no longer alive, so it is his testament for current and future governments of Russia.
…toxicological laboratories are a logical component of technical support services of every security organization. Agents in the years of the Cold War were often equipped with poisons; Aleksandr D. Ogorudnik, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who was a CIA agent in Moscow, committed suicide with poison in the course of his arrest in 1977. Before that, he poisoned his woman friend, fearing his own exposure through her. Toxicological service is necessary for security operations. However, the danger is that such a powerful and silent weapon can be manipulated in the interests of authoritarian rule and dictatorship. A secret directive by the government should be circulated to all the staff of toxicological services, strictly defining their functions and forbidding production of disguised poisonous weapons that might be used in an uncontrolled way. Unfortunately, in these delicate security issues, much depends on the honesty and morals of those who give the orders and those who obey them.
Is it justified to administer drugs or nonlethal poisons to a terrorist in order to neutralize him or to safeguard your source of information in a terrorist ring so that you can round up the whole group later? Even a well-planned operation is always subject to fatal error. Strict regulations must rule out individual operational executions by poisoning under any circumstances; legal execution must be reserved for convictions under the criminal code.
Sudoplatov died in 1996, but these words mean more now than when they were written.