How GRU Colonel Penkovsky became a bargaining chip in the elite's struggle against Khrushchev

On October 22, 1962, in Moscow, without any chases and skirmishes, which are either bad Hollywood or a terrible marriage in the work of the special services, Colonel of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Army Oleg Penkovsky was detained by the staff of the USSR State Security Committee. The charges against him of treason and espionage in favor of Great Britain and the United States were immediately recognized by this senior officer, front-line soldier and order bearer. He really was a spy. Or tried very hard to seem to them ...

The Penkovsky trial, at which all the ins and outs of his betrayal were covered in the most detailed way, was one of the few indicative (I would even say - exemplary) processes of the post-Stalin era. Its meetings were not just broadcast on radio and television - their transcripts were subsequently published by almost the entire Soviet press and even published as a separate book with a very impressive circulation. Nevertheless, both the figure itself and the real activity of this person are still the subject of controversy, discussion, research and investigation. We have to admit that it is quite possible that we know absolutely nothing about the real Penkovsky ...

A spy without motive

I will not retell here in detail the story of Oleg Penkovsky in all its many details. A whole literature has been written on this topic and many films have been shot. Tellingly, in the West he is extolled to the skies. Moreover, cooperation with this colonel is called there nothing else but "the most significant success of British and American intelligence in the 60s." Penkovsky was awarded the unofficial title of "the spy who saved the world"! In fact, he never saved any world, and the entire huge array of information transmitted (or allegedly transmitted) by him by his curator turns out to be not exactly the most perfect "dummy", but certainly not the information that pulls on the status of "most-most". And this is the best case.

There are serious suspicions that all the time of his cooperation with the SIS (British Secret Intelligence Service - SIS) and the CIA Penkovsky "drove" the most selective "misinformation" to their headquarters. However, let's not get ahead of ourselves. We'd better get down to an extremely exciting business - the study of those details and moments that, for the life of me, in no way fit into the classic propaganda version of a defector spy. Let's start, as usual, with the basics and basics. That is, from a motive that could induce an officer to embark on the slippery and, let us note, extremely dangerous path of double-dealing and treason. So, let's dig for a start in the past of our hero. Origin? The most that neither is the workers' and peasants. In some sources, however, there are references to a certain "father who served in the White Army", the fact of whose presence Penkovsky allegedly "carefully concealed", but this is a sheer fable, not confirmed by anything.

Service and combat path? Quite worthy. Participation in the Finnish War, the Liberation Campaign to Poland and, of course, in the Great Patriotic War. Penkovsky avoided the Stalinist "purges" in the Red Army because in 1937 he was only a cadet at an artillery school. Coming out of there, by the way, he became a political instructor, which, again, completely sweeps aside speculation about the "father-white". Then, to check such things as best they could ... Subsequently, some authors allowed themselves to write that the future "chief spy" did not really fight: he spent the Winter War far from the front line, in 1941-42 he was "wiping out at the headquarters of the Moscow Military District", yes and in the future he did not particularly hero. Let me disagree: yes, Penkovsky got to the front as a commander of a field unit in 1943, but how he fought specifically is evidenced not only by his awards: the Order of the Red Banner (two), the Red Star, the Patriotic War and even an infrequent order Alexander Nevsky, as well as a dozen medals (including For Military Merit, for example), but also the presence of two stripes for wounds - both light and heavy. Quite a decent track record.

Yes, there was friendship with Sergei Varentsov, the future marshal, commander-in-chief of the missile forces and artillery of the ground forces of the Soviet army. But to “write off” all the awards and the rank of colonel received at the age of 30 on this friendship is a thorough overkill. So, under no circumstances could Penkovsky be the "ideological enemy" of the Soviet regime and his country. Let's go further ... By the time of his "fall," he had every reason to be satisfied with life both in terms of social status (high rank, service in the GRU, belonging to the military elite) and materially - a three-room apartment in the center of Moscow, two very large officers salaries (he received them in two places of service - official and in intelligence), the ability to travel abroad despite the "Iron Curtain" ... It does not add up!

Careerist, poser, psycho?

Western writers about Penkovsky put forward “his disagreement with the aggressive policies USSR, the desire to expose it and contribute to the cause of peace "," to save humanity from death in a nuclear conflict. " With this, gentlemen, good - to psychiatrists. You, I remember, deigned to do something similar and grind about Rezun, until it turned out that they verbani him on banal compromising evidence - fun in the style of "blue moon". Whatever one may say, Penkovsky had no real reasons to betray his Motherland, for which he honestly shed blood and from which he had almost everything that an average Soviet person could dream of. Yes, and a pervert, unlike the future "writer", he certainly was not - except for women ... So in any army of the world in all ages and times looked condescending, to say the least.

There was, however, in his past, at the very beginning of his career as an intelligence officer, a rather "muddy" story - during his first foreign service trip to Turkey, Penkovsky was allegedly recorded by KGB officers for an extremely unsightly occupation - trying to sell some gold at the local bazaar. Moreover, he was also noticed by them in "molesting foreigners." Well, excuse me, the job of an intelligence officer is to "pester" foreigners. How else can you make useful contacts and get information? Penkovsky was then "asked" from the intelligence service (or simply transferred from there), but in no way was infringed on him anymore - they did not trample from the army, they did not demote him in rank. Moreover, they returned to the GRU personnel in less than a year! And they even began to move up the career ladder further. Let's remember this episode and move on. It must be said that all the actions of the "super spy" that were officially mentioned in the materials of his case, concerning his attempts to get in touch with the special services of the West, give off not just clumsy dilettantism of the lowest order, but some downright scholasticism.

Harassment in Moscow to American tourists with a request to "transfer a package with classified materials to the embassy", tossing the same anonymous letters into the windows of diplomatic residences ... Yes, this is just one shame - for a person who studied at the famous GRU academy (and in addition, in a couple more prestigious), who had a combat past and "field" experience of a resident, that's right. However, the main point that makes me personally, following the classic of Russian theatrical art, scream: “I don’t believe!” Is another episode. During his second, it seems, in a row, trip to London, Penkovsky, already being recruited, allegedly met with his curators from both the CIA and the ICU. Then he "was offered the rank of colonel of any of these special services," and our hero, like a mannered young lady choosing an outfit for a ball, not only tried on both appropriate uniforms (I wonder where he got them from?), But also took pictures in them ! From this place - stop! A sign of all (without any exceptions) people who really belong to the operational staff (it does not matter, "internal organs" or intelligence), is a pathological dislike of capturing their own image. They shy away from photo, video and movie cameras like from the plague. It is driven into the subconscious, into the blood and bone marrow. As one of these people told me personally: "Only an idiot will document himself." A photo session of Penkovsky in the uniforms of foreign intelligence services is not just a cruel "puncture", it is a guaranteed ticket to the death row! Didn't he realize it? In this case, it will be necessary to admit the correctness of the then head of MI6 Dick White, who considered the "super spy" an unbalanced neurotic, or his colleagues from the United States, who also had doubts about the mental health of this person. But it is unlikely that everything was explained so simply ...

Or the best KGB agent?

Perhaps the first idea that Penkovsky was nothing more than the KGB's cunningly slipped into the West was the idea of ​​James Angleton, who was in charge of counterintelligence at the CIA at that time. He shouted shouting, demanding that his colleagues cut off contacts with this Russian, who is working to create a "false sense of his own military superiority" in the United States and its allies, or at least drag him off to be tested for the nearest lie detector. They were afraid to "frighten off a valuable agent." But Angleton was right about at least about the operational game that our intelligence was playing with the West at that very time. Again, I will not go into details (this is a topic for a completely separate conversation), but it all boiled down to efforts to convince the Pentagon that Soviet missiles are absolutely incapable of hitting their ICBM silos. Since they are launched "two bast shoes to the right of the sun", without normal guidance systems.

In reality, of course, everything was completely different, but the Americans who believed in this "noodle" for a very long time did not bother with normal protection of their own missile silos, which, if necessary, we could "cut into nuts" without problems. Let's return, however, directly to Penkovsky. As later, not without surprise and disappointment, Philip Knightley, a well-known researcher and historiographer of the activities of the special services, was forced to admit, Penkovsky ultimately "did not give his curators a single piece of information that could be characterized as having serious military-strategic significance." For the most part, everything that the ICU and the CIA received from him was, at most, confirmation of information obtained through completely different channels and from other sources.

According to the materials of the investigation, the "super-spy" for a year and a half of his subversive activity managed to "fuse" almost 5 thousand secret documents to the imperialists and transfer data to six hundred of our intelligence officers abroad. However, what is interesting is that neither before, nor even after his arrest, not a single "spy scandal" with the agents allegedly "exposed" by him happened! Not that they didn’t throw anyone behind bars, they didn’t expel from the host country. As for the "secret information" ... For the most part, these were materials from "closed" departmental publications such as "Military Bulletin", taken by him in a special library. Also a military secret to me! Yes, Penkovsky sent photocopies of materials from the State Committee for the Coordination of Scientific Research under the USSR Council of Ministers to Britain and the United States. But here's another discrepancy - they mainly concerned travel reports of employees of this organization about their foreign trips. That is, in fact, the West received information ... about its own achievements! As for the role of Penkovsky in the Cuban missile crisis, which, according to some "clever men", he either tried to prevent, or, on the contrary, provoked by warning the US leadership about the transfer of Soviet missiles to Cuba, it has been proven a hundred times: even if we assume that that Penkovsky worked for the CIA earnestly and with all diligence, it was during this period that he was already under such a dense "cap" of the KGB that he could no longer transmit any information to the West. And he was not in any way admitted to the data on the top-secret operation Anadyr, about which not everyone in the Kremlin knew ...

Want more absurdities and oddities? As much as you like! The relatives of the "most important traitor to the Motherland" of the Khrushchev era did not endure, contrary to the then custom, not the slightest oppression. The most interesting thing is that Penkovsky's daughter (under a different surname, though) subsequently quietly served ... in the State Security Committee! This alone makes you think hard about who her father really was. Many (including myself) are inclined to believe that, at least after his not very successful business trip to Turkey, and most likely even before it began, Colonel Penkovsky took part in a large-scale operation of the Chekists to introduce a source of disinformation into the Western special services and uncover their agent network in the USSR. An operation that ended in complete success. By the way, his arrest in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis was also, most likely, part of psychological pressure on Washington, part of the “big game”.

Excuse me, you say, but Penkovsky was shot ?! What kind of games are there? Yes, by the verdict of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR, Oleg Penkovsky was executed. The verdict, by the way, according to eyewitnesses, came as a complete surprise to him, literally a bolt from the blue. He clearly expected something else. However, about Penkovsky's death, you know, there are versions too ... No, I’m not about fabrications of the same thing, not by the night of the aforementioned Rezun, according to which the ex-GRU officer “was burned alive in the crematorium oven”. This nonsense with his nonsense is definitely not worth taking seriously. But regarding the assumptions that the game was completed and Penkovsky, under a different name and with a changed appearance, continued his life path (far from the fact that in the USSR) ... They have no confirmation, but I would not completely rule out such an option ...

However, Penkovsky really could accept death even as a thoroughly conspiratorial state security agent - the trial over him became part of the last battle between Khrushchev's supporters (extremely few at that time) and his opponents, who were eager to quickly remove Kukuruznik from the "helm". The former also included the head of the GRU, Ivan Serov, who, after this story, lost his position, rank, party card and fell into complete disgrace, who was one of the "power" pillars of Khrushchev's power. And very soon it was the turn of Nikita Sergeevich himself. However, this, again, is a completely different story.

As for Oleg Penkovsky, the vast majority of materials on which are classified to this day, the truth, when the time comes to find out, may turn out to be quite unexpected.
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  1. Petr Vladimirovich (Peter) 24 October 2020 16: 55
    A selfie in a foreign uniform in front of the mirror with Zenith in hand? Fine...
  2. amateur Offline amateur
    amateur (Victor) 25 October 2020 08: 14
    fights between supporters of Khrushchev (extremely few at that time) and his opponents, who were eager to quickly remove Kukuruznik from the "helm". The former also included the head of the GRU, Ivan Serov, who, after this story, lost his position, rank, party card and fell into complete disgrace, who was one of the "power" pillars of Khrushchev's power.

    The author mixed in a bunch of "horses, people, etc." Before the leadership of the GRU, I. Serov was the founder and first chairman of the KGB and was actually demoted by Khrushchev to the head of the GRU. I hope no one will deny that the position of the KGB chairman in terms of influence on everything in the USSR is incomparable with the "weight" of the head of the GRU. By the way, in addition to Serov, artillery marshal Varentsov was also repressed. The details of P.'s case are described in the recently published "I. Serov's diaries?"
  3. Sergey Latyshev Offline Sergey Latyshev
    Sergey Latyshev (Serge) 28 October 2020 09: 18
    In any case, an ugly story in power.