Kirov, Sergei Mironovich

(1880–1934)
   Born Kostikov, Kirov rose quickly in the Bolshevik Party as one of Joseph Stalin’s chief lieutenants. As party boss of Leningrad, Kirov assured Stalin’s control of the country’s second city by purging the party of Trotskyites and other dissidents. At the 17th party congress, Kirov emerged as the favorite of the party, garnering more votes in a secret ballot for Central Committee membership than even Stalin. Kirov, however, made no effort to lead a revolt against Stalin, who some believed had lost control of the country and was responsible for the famine of 1932–1933, which claimed 5–7 million lives.
   Stalin, who had previously been close to Kirov, apparently decided to remove him from his power base in Leningrad. He offered Kirov a position in the Central Committee Secretariat in Moscow. More ominously, at Stalin’s command major changes were made in the NKVD in Leningrad and in Kirov’s security detail. On 1 December 1934, Leonid Nikolaev, a minor party official, shot Kirov to death in the Leningrad headquarters of the party.
   Stalin left Moscow for Leningrad with an entourage of security personnel almost immediately on hearing of Kirov’s death. He personally interrogated Nikolaev and upbraided Fillip Medved, chief of the Leningrad NKVD, who was subsequently sentenced to three years in a labor camp. More importantly, he issued a new counterterrorism decree allowing the NKVD to try and execute enemies of the people without defense counsel or appeal for mercy. In Leningrad, this led to the execution of 6,501 people in December 1934 alone. This also led to plans for show trials of Old Bolsheviks, colleagues of Lenin, who were accused of complicity in Kirov’s murder. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens perished in 1934–1938 as a result of 1 December 1934 and the events that followed.
   In his Secret Speech in February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev hinted that Stalin was responsible for Kirov’s death. Modern scholars remain divided as to how much—if any—responsibility Stalin bears for the killing. No memos in the files show Stalin’s guilt. Historians point out that Stalin was jealous of Kirov’s authority within the party and apparently wanted him out of Leningrad. Moreover, he benefited from the killing, using it to institutionalize the tactics of terror and enhance his own political power. Others believe that Stalin would never have used anyone as unstable as Nikolaev, and that Kirov’s death was simply a killing Stalin took advantage of to purge the Soviet Union.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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