Several of the greatest and most terrible leaders of the Soviet Union were brought up through the ranks of the KGB and its predecessors: Beria, Andropov, and Yeltsin were all proteges of the KGB. The KGB infiltrated straight into the heart of the American and British establishments; the KGB ran the most infamous spy ring in the history of espionage . The KGB supervised many invasions of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The KGB crest – the sword and the shield – is to show what the KGB stands for; defense, espionage, and attack.
The KGB has affected both the culture and the government of Russia in several ways. Soviet Security Services 1907-1991 The Soviet Security services varied much through out the years and were both the most feared and most powerful government agencies that the Union ever saw. The responsibilities of the Services varied from being responsible for propaganda to controlling Siberian labor camps.
Contrary to popular belief there were seven different services, not just the one KGB that is commonly referred to as the single Soviet security service.
The VeCheka was Vladimir Lenin’s device for keeping his newly founded country together. It was founded on the 20th of December in 1917, right at the beginning of the Soviet Union. The USSR was in a tenuous place after the revolution of 1917 and Lenin, with the help of Dzerzhinsky, founded the All-Russian Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage or the VeCheka in Russian. The Cheka was used to capture former Czar officials who were on the run and could possibly spring a new revolution to bring back the exiled czar1 and try to control the country.
The Cheka began the organization of a spy program that would last for almost a century and recruit more spies than any other agency in the history of the world. The legacy of the VeCheka still remains, as the secret policemen during Soviet times were referred to as “Chekists” and the secret policemen in Russia today are still referred to as “Chekists”, as they were called while the VeCheka still existed. The VeCheka was replaced by the GPU in 1922 to present a fresh face for the Secret Police and a new look for the Politburo.
The GPU was created as that the current security service would not a bad image, the Cheka had been rather hated and feared by the people of the USSR, and it had slightly different duties than the VeCheka. The GPU, “State Political Directorate” in English, was used also for the security of the borders of the Soviet Union as well as controlling new unions that “joined”. The GPU lasted only one year before it gained such a bad reputation about the purges and labor camps that it was disbanded in 1923 and replaced by the OGPU. The OGPU was the first security service that prosecuted religion and freedom of speech.
It was founded in 1923 to enhance the power of the service as well as give it a fresh face. The OGPU worked to abolish the Russian Orthodox Church, one of the most extreme branches of Catholicism. It nearly succeeded however secret meetings were still held underground and in far off regions where the government was not strong. The largest and quite possibly most successful operation by the OGPU was called the “Trust Operation”. The Trust Operation was used to make money for the USSR, lure exiled Russians to Moscow, and worked as propaganda machine after being disbanded in 1924.
The idea of the operation was to have a group, “The Trust”, working in western countries pretending to be an anti-communist group ready to stage a rebellion; from there they would both recruit members and get money from western intelligence agencies and anti-Soviet persons. Once members were “recruited” they would be told to go to Moscow and from there they would be placed under arrest in Lubyanka and often murdered to make sure that they kept quiet. This operation was ruined when Sidney Reilly, a Russian-born British intelligence officer who was one of the leading anti-Soviet forces in the west, was lured to and murdered in Moscow.
After this, the venture became a purely propaganda based job because British and American governments were becoming aware of the fact. The time of the OGPU and GPU was when the most public purges were done and the most hated leaders were seen. The government realized that all these murders were hurting their idealist image, so in late 1934, the secret police became part of the NKVD . The NKVD presented a more polite scaled back view to the secret service with less public purges and more just spying upon the Soviet people.
While this may have looked like a nicer more people oriented service, in actuality it was merely more propaganda. The service was actually murdering only a small fraction less of people and it was spying on the people more. The West was not aware of these facts and looked upon it as an improvement to the USSR. It was during these times that the NKVD recruited the most western spies such as the “Cambridge Five spy ring”, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen in the CIA, and Klaus Fuchs, the spy in the Manhattan Project.
In 1945, the NKVD split its secret service portion in two, forming the NKGB and the NKVD. The NKVD was responsible for border guarding and propaganda, and the NKGB worked against western countries, fought sabotage, terrorism and counterespionage, and provided bodyguards for the Bolshevik officials. Again, this was more of a housekeeping issue, to make the world think better of the Soviet Secret Service and Moscow as a whole, not so much an actual change of duties, the government agencies at that time, world war two just ending and the cold war beginning.
In 1946, Lavrenty Beria made the NKVD and the NKGB into ministries, making them the MGB and MVD. Although the agencies bore different names than before, they still had the same jobs but were represented in the Politburo with a minister apiece. In 1953, at the end of his term, Beria merged the two into the MGB. This was his last major act before being thrown out. In the same year the agency lost its government representation and became the Committee for State Security, or the infamous KGB. The KGB was the most famous Soviet secret service and many people still believe that it exists.
The KGB was responsible for some of the worst attacks, from the 1950’s onward, against the United States, the United Kingdom, and eastern European/Middle East countries such as Afghanistan, Macedonia, and Pakistan. It was during the time of the KGB that the most agents attempted to defect to the West and only two survived for more than two years after defecting. The KGB effectively controlled the entirety of the USSR, the largest country ever in modern times. The Leaders The leaders of the KGB have been some of the most influential men in Soviet history.
Some ascended to the ranks of leader of the Bolsheviks, others have been killed beneath the KGB headquarters at “Lubyanka”. Either way, they have all gone on to great and/or terrible deeds, some have been put down as almost saints by the Soviets and others have been instrumental in the downfall of the Soviets. Leaders such as Felix Dzerzhinsky were incredibly helpful to the USSR in the Russian Revolution and then created the VeCheka , others such as Lavrenty Beria were seen as potential rivals to leaders of the USSR and were murdered beneath where their own feet had tread in the haunted prison of Lubyanka.
Felix Dzerzhinsky was the first of the leaders of the KGB, or, as it was called at that point, the Vecheka. Dzerzhinsky was both a powerful leader of the Vecheka and an important Bolshevik politician. He was instrumental in the creation of the USSR and in helping the new country survive during German attacks. Born into a noble polish family in the late 1800’s, as soon as he was schooled he was against all class differences and became an avid reader of Karl Marx . During the Russian Revolution he was forced to fight on the side of the Polish, but when given the opportunity he quickly defected to Leningrad (St.
Petersburg or Petrograd) where he met Vladimir Lenin and quickly established himself as his right-hand man. When Lenin returned from his second exile and took over Russia, Dzerzhinsky quickly created the “All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage”. He worked this into Soviet politics and became known and feared through out the Soviet Union. During his time in the Secret Service, he went throughout the USSR and worked against all anti-communists and religious eople. That said, he was still probably one of the most peaceful of the secret service leaders. After Lenin died and Stalin took over, Dzerzhinsky was appointed as Head of Soviet Economics on the 24th of February, 1924, even though Dzerzhinsky was against Stalin’s appointment as president of the USSR. However, Stalin merely used this as an opportunity to remove Dzerzhinsky from the secret service. Dzerzhinsky spent the rest of his life devoted to making the economics of the USSR better. Sadly, his life only lasted three more years, and he died in 1926.
While he may no longer be around, the FSB has a constant reminder that he started their organization as they are housed in Dzerzhinsky Square, Moscow, the leaders are reminded each day of where there organization spawned. After Dzerzhinsky was forced off the force, a new face was brought in. Vyacheslav Menzhinsky was appointed to lead the force. Menzhinsky was another Pole who had taken it upon himself to make the Czarist regime fall. He went so far as to get himself arrested by the Czars in 1906 on “Civil Disobedience” charges. He was appointed as head of the OGPU in 1926.
However, he only lasted eight years before falling out of favor with Stalin and having to flee. He fled to Switzerland, France and the United States before he was finally caught by his own former agency and found, in what appeared to be a “suicide”, in his hotel room. Replacing Menzhinsky was his own deputy, Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda, yet another Pole leading the Soviet Secret Service. Yagoda was born in Lodz, Poland at the height of the Russian Empire in 1891. Yagoda joined the Bolshevik party right at the beginning in 1907 as a member of the Leningrad chapter.
Yagoda quickly rose through the ranks in the Bolsheviks and was appointed to the VeCheka in 1920 by Dzerzhinsky. He became the deputy head of the OGPU in 1924 and was stationed there for 10 years. During that time, he was appointed as the head of the Siberian labor camps. In 1934, Yagoda finally was raised to the position he had been striving for since he entered the VeCheka, the elusive Headship. During his time at the top, he started the first widespread and public purge trials, these trials were used to “purge” political enemies from the Soviet Union.
Yagoda did not last long as the leader of the OGPU. He fell out of favor with Stalin in 1936 and was replaced. However, Stalin was not content with merely removing him from his post in the OGPU, and in 1937 he was arrested by his own former organization. During the third of the “Great Purges”, Yagoda was tried and convicted of being part of the “Trotskyite” conspiracy and was executed on the 15th of March, 1938 underneath the headquarters of the NKVD at Lubyanka , Moscow. Immediately following Yagoda was Nikolay Yezhov an underling in the NKVD and the man responsible for purging Yagoda.
Yezhov was born in Petrograd in 1895. He joined the Red Army in 1905 and fought in the 1907 revolution. He joined the Bolshevik party in Leningrad in 1917 and quickly rose through the ranks. He was appointed to the post of “Head of Soviet Security” on the 26th September, 1936, and became feared through out the Soviet Union as the most ruthless leader of the secret police yet. He was responsible for the “Great Purge” and began to purge all of the staff that could potentially be harmful, to him including his predecessor and the war minister of the USSR.
He was known throughout the USSR as “The Bloody Dwarf”; Yezhov was less than five feet tall, as well as being diagnosed with Napoleon Complex at age five. Stalin was not happy with his work after one year and he [Stalin] was encouraged by Molotov to purge Yezhov. During 1937, Stalin gave Yezhov chances to regain favor but Stalin was not impressed by the way Yezhov handled himself without support and he was worried about potential threats to his power. In August of 1938, Lavrenty Beria, Yezhov’s deputy whom he though was his closest ally, took over control of the NKVD in what would become a long and owerful reign. On the 25th of November, 1938, Yezhov was officially removed from his post and exiled to Stalingrad. After two years of exile, Yezhov was still viewed as a possible threat to Stalin and he was arrested in 1940 and purged in the cell adjoining to his predecessor’s cell. Born in 1899 in Georgia, Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria joined the Communist Party at the very beginning of the Russian Revolution. Between 1917 and 1925, Beria led the Georgian chapter of the VeCheka in a very similar way to Dzerzhinsky. In 1926, he was transferred to Moscow to work as a deputy in OGPU.
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