Executions

   The last three decades of the tsarist regime experienced intense persecution of political rebels and anti-Semitic pogroms, which were often commissioned by agents of the Okhrana. During 1881–1914, approximately 11,000 subjects of the tsar were hanged for political crimes, killed in clashes with the security forces in urban and peasant risings, or murdered in pogroms. The term “Stolypin necktie” came from the willingness of Minister of Interior Petr Stolypin to sanction execution of rebels following the Revolution of 1905.
   During the Soviet period, capital punishment was officially referred to by the acronym VM or VMN, for Vyshaya mera nakazaniya, or Supreme Measure of Punishment. Executions were carried out by shooting; usually the condemned was shot in the back of the head. However, during World War II, German war criminals and Soviet collaborators were often publicly hanged. Our information on executions during the Soviet period is incomplete. During the first four years of the regime, approximately 143,000 people were executed by the Cheka. Figures for the late 1920s and 1930s are incomplete because the security service did not include peasants shot resisting collectivization or killings in forced labor camps. Information submitted by the security service to the Communist Party Central Committee after the death of Joseph Stalin indicates that there were 747,772 executions between 1922 and 1939. This figure is rejected by most Soviet experts, including former party leader Nikita Khrushchev and Politburo member Aleksandr Yakovlev, who put the figure three to 10 times greater. For scholars of Russian history, major lacunae remain in the records of the security services, which prevent any accounting of the bloodletting during the Lenin and Stalin years.
   During the Great Patriotic War, more than 157,000 Soviet forces were sentenced to be shot, the equivalent of 15 infantry divisions. The NKVD and Red Army executed approximately 13,500 during the Battle of Stalingrad. The records show that another 25,000 officers were sentenced to penal battalions, where the overwhelming majority were killed in action. Those punished officers would have been sufficient to command the troops of 25 additional infantry divisions. Following Stalin’s death, execution by shooting was used to combat a number of criminal acts, including large-scale theft of state property and embezzlement. According to recently opened Soviet archives, there were 25,000 death sentences and 21,000 executions between 1962 and 1990, most for civil criminal activities. In 1962–1963, approximately 3,000 executions took place as Khrushchev demanded the security service and police crack down on the illegal economy.
   Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, capital punishment continued in most of former Soviet republics. Russia legally abolished capital punishment in 1998; the last execution took place in 1996. Popular opinion supports restoring capital punishment, and even former Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has publicly spoken in favor of renewing capital punishment for murder.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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