Nikolaev, Leonid

(1904–1934)
   The most infamous assassin in Russian history, Leonid Nikolaev killed Leningrad party boss Sergei Kirov, a murder that provided Joseph Stalin with justification to ramp up state terror. Nikolaev was a minor party official who blamed Kirov and the party leadership for his failed life. The Russian archives show that Nikolaev was detained twice with a loaded weapon near Kirov’s residence and released. On 1 December 1934, he shot Kirov in Smolny, the Leningrad Communist Party headquarters building. Kirov’s security detail arrived in time to arrest Nikolaev, who had fainted after firing the fatal shots. On hearing of the murder, Stalin and his subordinates took a train to Leningrad. Nikolaev was personally interrogated by Stalin the day following the murder. According to some witnesses, he implicated NKVD officers. He was then brutally interrogated by NKVD officers, and on 29 December he and 14 other defendants were shot following a short trial. In January 1935 his wife, sister, and remaining friends were also shot.
   Nikolaev most probably was used, but historians are not sure exactly by whom. Most recent historians believe that Nikolaev was protected by senior NKVD officers, possibly service chief Genrykh Yagoda, with Stalin’s approval. The archives, however, do not contain enough evidence to prove Stalin and Yagoda planned the killing. Other historians believe that Stalin would never have risked using a man like Nikolaev, and that Yagoda would never have acted without Stalin’s explicit directions.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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