Alexander Nikolayevich Shelepin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Шеле́пин; 18 August 1918 – 24 October 1994) was a Soviet state security officer and party statesman. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its Politburo and was the head of the KGB from 25 December 1958 to 13 November 1961.
Early life and career
Shelepin was born in Voronezh, according to one source the son of a railway official. A history and literature major while studying at the Moscow Institute of Philosophy and Literature, Shelepin was in charge of recruiting guerrilla fighters during World War II; after the notorious execution by the Germans of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya (whom he had selected) Shelepin caught Joseph Stalin's attention and his political fortune was made. He became a senior official of the Communist Youth League in 1943, and at the head of the successor organisation, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, from 1952 to 1958. He accompanied Nikita Khrushchev on the Soviet leader's trip to the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1954.
Shelepin then became the head of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, which had been reorganised and reformed as the KGB after the death of Soviet leader Stalin. Nikita Khrushchev appointed Shelepin in part because of several major KGB defections in the 1950s during the tenure of Ivan Serov as head of the KGB. Shelepin attempted to return state security to its position of importance during the Stalinist era. He demoted or fired many KGB officers, replacing them with officials from Communist Party organisations, and, especially, from the Communist Youth League.
During the 1950s, Aleksandr Shelepin proposed and carried out a destruction of many documents related to the Katyn massacre to minimise the chance that the truth would be revealed. His 3 March 1959 note to Nikita Khrushchev, with information about the execution of 21,857 Poles and with the proposal to destroy their personal files, became one of the documents that were preserved and eventually made public.
The policy of providing KGB support to national liberation movements in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa was adopted during Shelepin's tenure in the summer of 1961 by Khrushchev and CPSU Central Committee. Cuba strongly supported an aggressive policy of military support for African national liberation movements with Che Guevara, in co-operation with Ben Bella of Algeria, playing a leading role.
The overthrow of Khrushchev and fall from grace
Shelepin left the KGB and was promoted to the Central Committee secretariat in November 1961, where it is believed he still exercised control over the KGB, which was taken over by his protégé Vladimir Yefimovich Semichastny. Shelepin became a First Deputy Prime Minister in 1962. He was a principal player in the coup against Khrushchev in October 1964, obviously influencing the KGB to support the conspirators.
Shelepin probably expected to become First Secretary and de facto head of government when Khrushchev was overthrown. Shelepin occupied a uniquely powerful position within the party, leading a large conservative faction within the Party and holding two high-level posts, one in the government Council of Ministers as Deputy Premier and one in the central party apparatus as a member of the Secretariat. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn suggested that Shelepin had been the choice of the surviving Stalinists in the government, who asked what "had been the point of overthrowing Khrushchev if not to revert to Stalinism?" As far as his own views on the role of Soviet government went, Shelepin opposed the relaxation of tensions with the United States, and favoured a return to domestic policies that favoured discipline and the promotion of Russian interests within the wider Union.
Instead, Shelepin's reward was to be made a full member of the ruling Politburo in November 1964—by a significant margin its youngest member. But he still held ambitions of becoming the "first among equals". His colleagues on the Politburo watched him carefully, seeking to halt his ambitions. So as to weaken his substantial power base within the CPSU, Shelepin was stripped of the Deputy Premiership at the end of 1965 and from 1965–1970 witnessed the systematic dismissal of his most powerful allies within the Party. He survived in that body until 1975, when he rapidly fell from power, being successively demoted to a number of lower positions, until his retirement in 1984.
Honours and awards
- Four Orders of Lenin
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour
- Order of the Patriotic War 2nd class
- Order of the Red Star
- Medal "For the Defence of Moscow"
- Medal "For Valiant Labour in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945"
- Medal "Partisan of the Patriotic War" 1st class