Lavrentiy Beria

Posted on July 13, 2015


“It was a Beria operation in Stalin’s time.”
There is much to be learned about the actual organisation of Soviet Intelligence and how it has been depicted in the Bond films. The KGB, SMERSH and its operation of Smiert Spionam – “Death to Spies”.

One of the men instrumental in the terror of the Soviet Security Police and Intelligence was Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria (1899-1953), a ghastly evil man. Beria is mentioned in “The Living Daylights” by General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davis), head of KGB when Bond confronts him in his mistress’ hotel room. The reason for Bond’s order to kill Pushkin is the alleged KGB operation of Smiert Spionem – “Death to Spies.”

“Smiert Spionem?”, Pushkin replies. “It was a Beria operation in Stalin’s time. It was deactivated twenty years ago.”

So more on the Smiert Spionem and Stalin later on. Lavrentiy Beria was, as Stalin, a Georgian born communist who worked his way up the communist party together with Josef Stalin. In the 1930’s he rose to be one of the most powerful men in the Soviet Union, mainly working with the ruthless purge of the Communist Party ordered by Stalin.


Lavrentiy Beria

In 1938 Beria was appointed head of the NKVD, People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs dealing with state security and police forces. He replaced Nikolai Yezhov who two years later was executed. Beria started his own purge of the NKVD and replaced half its staff. The release of 100 000 prisoners from labour camps ordered by Beria early on in his office seems to be an act of sense and mercy. In reality the hunt for “enemies of the state” continued and as war came closer the NKVD was as busy as ever. During the Second World War he carried out a purge against the Red Army and controlled the manufacturing of a great deal of the Soviet war equipment transferring prisoners from the Gulag camps to the armament factories.
In 1940 Beria was responsible for the horrible Katyn Massacre. He recommended to the Soviet Politburo that the Polish war prisoners should be executed as he accused them of being enemies of the Soviet State. This was approved by the Politburo and the order of the execution was signed by Stalin. Soldiers, officers, policemen and members of Polish intelligentsia were executed by the NKVD in April and May 1940. 22 000 people were executed in the Katyn Massacre and the Soviet Union denied responsibilty when the graves were found by the German army 1943, blaming the Germans. In 1990 the Soviet state finally admitted their guilt in the massacre but there are still many questions that need answering.

During the war Beria was awarded a number of offices and titles, and at the end of the war he was appointed Marshall of the Soviet Union. Beria left the NKVD in 1946 but still had the general control of the Soviet state security being appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Curator of State Security. The politics of Post war Soviet Union was filled with intrigues, terror and alliances as the high officials were positioning themselves to be on the winning team as the regime of the ageing Stalin drew an end. Beria turned out to be on the losing team. Beria hated Stalin in his later years and awaited the dictator’s death. When Stalin suffered a stroke in March 1953, Beria delayed Stalin’s medical treatment and Beria later claimed to have killed him. There are theories that Beria had Stalin poisoned but this has never been proven. It is true however, that Beria was joyful after Stalin’s death and he made sure to rise to power with his ally Malenkov.
Everything came up Beria. For some time that is. Soon, the other high officials of the communist party turned on Beria. Khrushchev, Molotov and Bulganin made the weak Malenko abandon his former ally and at a party meeting in June 1953 Beria was arrested. Later in december, the Soviet Supreme Court found Beria guilty of treason, terrorism and counter revolutionary activity and he was sentenced to death and executed on the same day, 23 December. His remains were cremated and buried in a forest outside Moscow.

Lavrentiy Beria was a cruel and evil man, an opportunist with a severe lack of empathy. A ruthless psychopath that makes a scary model of fictional villains. Not only was he responsible for a terror that took the lives of thousands, he was also a known sexual predator whose offences go beyond the unspeakable. The depth of his sinister nature is almost unbelievable. The exploits of Beria was no secret to Ian Fleming and the diabolical scheme of Smiert Spionam fits the narrative in “The Living Daylights” as Lavrentiy Beria is the personification of Soviet terror.
As for Pushkin’s quote from the film it does seem odd that the operation Smiert Spionam was active up until 1967, fourteen years after Beria’s death.

Much is written on Beria, start at the Wikipedia article and look up its references for more information.