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Shortwave radio monitoring by the KGB in Latvia

Soviet made Shortwave radios were enjoyment for citizens but were headache for KGB

Soviet made Shortwave radios were enjoyment for citizens but were headache for KGB

Soon after the end of the World War 2 the tensions between Soviet Union and United States of America engulfed into Cold War. A full-scale war of propaganda was used by both side including shortwave radio broadcasts. Shortwave radio broadcasts could reach listeners to faraway locations including the Soviet occupied Latvia.  Soviet security services were unable to control the foreign broadcasters so they tried to jam the broadcasts or to punish the listeners. But in either way it was never-ending carousel as Soviet radio industry made shortwave radio receivers in masses and neither the technical jamming or KGB monitoring could not fully block the western propaganda.

Shortwave radio broadcasts were popular among Latvians because many of them were critical of the soviet mass media content and therefore they seek alternative news sources. In first post war years radio was still a rare household item, as may pre-war Latvian and German-made radios were lost and Soviets attempted to register the radio owners. The average shortwave listener needed to know English, German and Russian although some of their news were transcribed in the national partisan underground newspapers and leaflets. However, the circulation of these newspapers were quite low. So radio owners tried to listen to “Radio London”, “Voice of America”, “Radio Luxembourg” and “Radio in American Sector”, that transmitted from Western Germany. After the Winston Churchill “Iron Curtain” speech in May 24 1946 in Fulton the BBC World Service started broadcasts in Russian. From September 2 1948 “Radio Vaticana” started broadcasts in Latvian.

Soviet authorities listened and discussed these broadcasts themselves. Since the content of these broadcasts were beyond their control they started to build powerful jammers. Their technical operation is discussed in separate post. War in Korea triggered the full-scale “campaign of truth” against the communists and decided to boost nationalism within Soviet occupied Baltic republics. On June 3 1951 the “Voice of America” begun to broadcast in Latvian. Latvians at first paid large attention to it, radio played the Anthem of Latvia and called for resistance making many people to believe that US will send its support. However, it took place after the deportation of March 25 1949 and Soviet power had fully established itself in Latvia. Later people got enough of repetitive information and lack innovation.

Soviet Ministry of Security gathered reports about people listening to “Voice of America”. Mostly they were discovered when they unknowingly talking about the broadcasts to a KGB agent or their conversations were overheard. They were added to KGB list as persons as spreaders of the “anti-soviet propaganda”. Soviet bureaucrats were even suggested to stop the production of the shortwave receivers, however it was turned down by the producers. At the start of the sixties Latvian industrial companies like VEF and Radiotehnika were one of the first to produce portable affordable transistor radios in USSR. Radio was no more a large cabinet like standing in room corner it could be battery-powered and taken to picnics.

Despite the relative liberalization after the death of Stalin and limitation of repressions the ideological war with west was far from over. Broadcasts from the west continued and it was forbidden to publicly spoke about the content heard in them. Doing so might result an arrest in “Corner house” of KGB main headquarters in Riga. It was also no secret that shortwave radio broadcasts inspired many dissidents and no wonder why many workers in VEF and Radiotehnika became dissidents. Most known of them were Gunārs Astra. On September 3 1953 in town of Auce locals streamed the Voice of America within local radio broadcasting net. They were later arrested.

During the crisis in Hungary on 1956 people were tuned to BBC World Service and Voice of America. Some young students told they only first learned about Stalin’s cult of personality from the Voice of America. In Preiļi region people gathered in groups to listen to Voice of America. While USSR was reluctant to speak about negative news within the country the US spent an enormous recourses for anti-communist propaganda. President of US Richard Nixon told that its much more useful to spent one dollar on radio propaganda rather than spend 10 dollars on another new rocket. Another massive radio propaganda network also broadcasting in Latvian was “Radio Free Europe” that in its r0ots was a funded by US CIA. It was kept secret until on late seventies KGB funded leftist magazine uncovered it. After that Radio Free Europe was funded by US State Congress. Soviet Union also had shortwave propaganda station “Radio Moscow” that transmitted in various western languages. Shortwave radio jamming in USSR was halted during diplomatic warm-ups on 1963-1968 and 1973-1979 both times restarted because of the Soviet invasions in Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.  Because of relative low numbers of English speakers the broadcasts in English were not jammed. This is also one of the reasons why in schools the English studies were limited.

Radio Free Europe begun its Latvian broadcasts on 1975. KGB foreign branch was tasked to gather information about the Latvian broadcasting staff and their editors and tried to infiltrate their agents in them. KGB succeeded to find information but failed to send agents to subvert the Latvian editions of VoA and RFE. As the soviet power weakened on seventies people were less afraid to speak about the things heard on the radios. KGB still tried to punish some people who were too open, often it was included into official accusation that the crime was influenced by the western radio broadcasts. Last such case was for Rolands Silaraups on 1986 the member of the nationalist Helsinki-86 movement.

On 1987 in the spirit of perestroika the shortwave jamming was fully halted. People now closely followed the VoA and RFE. Some of them heard about the first pro-independence protests on 1987 in the foreign radios and took action on following ones. On political level most influential were the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. On cultural level the foreign pop and rock music heard by youngsters on their Spīdola radio receivers also boosted the Latvian cultural life. The banned Latvian movie “Four White Shirts” included  old conservative party functionary in the censorship meeting talking about the bad influence on the young generations caused by Spīdola radio receivers.

Today the World Wide Web has replaced shortwave radio as propaganda weapon. Voice of America no longer broadcasts in Russian or Latvia. Radio Free Europe however continues to broadcast in Russian and Belarussian over shortwave, because their local coverage within medium waves were closed by Russian authorities on 2012.  Russia itself has stripped their Voice of Russia the oldest international radio station from 1920ies when it was called Radio Comintern. But, now the neo-soviet Vladimir Putin regime has begun a crackdown on Internet calling it a project of the CIA. In such manner it could be possible that if Russia will isolate itself from rest of the world, the shortwave broadcasting to Russia can again became active. There is present example of China and even more extreme of North Korea where controlled Internet has caused extensive shortwave broadcast targeting towards these countries. In return China and North Korea use extensive shortwave jammers to limit these broadcasts from US and Europe. Will Russia will return to an old days of shortwave jamming and arresting their listeners we shall see.


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Gunārs Astra The Latvian Anti-Soviet Dissident


During the long years of Soviet occupation few dared to resist the enormous oppressive system. After the armed struggle made by national partisans were crushed, the resistance to the Soviet regime was more passive and intellectual. But, even to non-violent ways of resistance the Soviet response was punitive. One of these men who opposed the system and to end of his life gone through the soviet persecution. His name was Gunārs Astra. Because of strong character and powerful last words at the court before the final sentence he became the symbol of the Latvian anti-Soviet resistance.

Gunārs Astra was born in October 23 1931. He lived in Riga and was in the age of 9 when Latvia was occupied by the Soviets. From 1940 to 1947 he attended the Riga City 48th Elementary school. After graduating he joined the Riga Electromechanic School. He went to work at VEF factory. On 1952 he graduated and became the VEF engineer technologian. On 1954 he was conscripted into Soviet Army. After the end of service on 1956 he went back to VEF and became the Radio Workshop master. On 1957 he became the chief of this workshop. He there first witnessed of what he called “the cooking room of the administrative and ideological directing”. He meant that every leading official in every state enterprise had to submit to soviet ideological brainwashing and obey every order from above. On 1958 he left the VEF and joined the Riga Pedagogical Institute to learn foreign languages. He wanted to learn foreign languages to get more wider view on things.

Gunārs Astra from the very childhood was a philosophically minded person. He practiced in dialogue skills , challenged people to express their opinion and then openly pointed their mistakes. He was directly critical of loudmouths and gossipers and therefore gained many enemies. In his workplace at Latvian State University at the Light and Sound testing laboratory unimpressed colleges started to report him to KGB. Because his desire to learn English and contact Westerners were considered suspicious he was under the KGB monitoring.

Astra read pre-war literature and listened the Western shortwave broadcasts and gained strong belief that Latvia was occupied and annexed and Latvia is under the dictate of the Communist party. He was deeply passionate about the sad state of the Latvian language, because it was pushed out of the official and social space. And he did not hide his beliefs, instead he contacted the western people and expressed his views.

On February 26 1961 he was arrested by KGB. He was accused of “seeking contacts with the US intelligence, gathering military type  information to weaken the Soviet power”. On October 26 he was sentenced for “state treason” to 15 years in prison camp in Mordovia. The same place where now one of the menbers of band Pussy Riot Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is imprisoned.  He was 30 years old at that time. During the years in prison he sent many letters to his relatives that were checked and censured by the KGB. Despite restrictions he made friends with other jailed dissidents from various parts of the Soviet Union. He took place in many protests and made hunger-strikes. He turned down any calls for compromise to ease his sentence.

After serving his 15 years he returned to Latvia. He was not broken down by the imprisonment instead he became even more confident to spread out his political beliefs. And nothing stopped him. KGB tried to isolate him from his work colleagues at the factory “Straume”. KGB tried to influence his brothers and asked to cooperate. After the proposal was turned down his brother Leons Astra lost his academic carrier.  KGB even infringed his marriage with his wife Herta Līvija Vagale.

Astra found joy and profit in to flower breeding and selling. Selling flowers were one of the few legal ways of private enterprise. He lived in Lucasvala island in Riga and made his own small Latvia in his property. KGB sent men posing as fisherman  to watch him. Despite meeting common minded people he declined any group activity.

On January 6 1983 KGB came back and made search in his home. KGB confiscated many photos, sound tapes, foreign literature and sound and photo equipment. From 15 to 19 December he was put on show trial in the Higher Court. He was sentenced for 7 years in prison for “anti-soviet agitation”.

Gunārs Astra in prison

Gunārs Astra in prison

His last words were secretly recorded with illegally brought in tape recorder. The speech made its way to Western media and Latvian exiles. If no tape recorders would be taken by his supporters, then these last words would never seen the light of day. Instead just official court report with edited text of last words would show up.

His last words included: “I was born in time when childhood was difficult, but filled with decisive events. In those times I grew up, learned to analyse, compare and confront and make my conclusions. I have been born early enough to witness these events and late enough to personally feel these events that make many frozen forever, by their fear. I came to work at early age. Already at the age of 25 I was chief deputy of the workshop with 2000 people working there. My social background can be clearly verified by my persecutor who stated that have “positive social basis” I had “socially right” background so I was put forward, trusted and thats why I experienced the cooking room of the administrative and ideological directing”. I was asked to join the Communist party openly explaining to make further carrier “I first must politically establish myself”. I had to take part in cabinet meetings, where they spoke openly, calling things as they are, and previously choosing people for positions and then placing them on “elections”. Our workshop was awarded on the anniversary 40 anniversary of the Bolshevik coup. We were awarded in the opera theater, but the 50 anniversary I spent in Mordovia in the KGB dungeons.

As my lawyer pointed out I am a Latvian man. I would dare to call myself Latvian. And not just citizen of Riga, as the central radio and press tries to call us lately – “рижанин Балдерис” and so on (Haralds Balderis a famous hockey player from Latvia). Its not a coincidence and its not unimportant that our beautiful and rich language is being pushed out of meetings, cabinets, offices and slogans and is being depleted and crippled.  I am saddened that behind the large facades of our factories “Straume”, “VEF” and “Radiotehnika”, everything is just in Russian, all orders, manuals, documents in Russian. Its painful for me that the Latvian language has to enclose in reservoirs in ethnographic museum, theater plays and in mass information. And even there the great Russian language breaks in.

Its painful and humiliating when large part of Latvia born Russian students don’t learn and does not want to learn Latvian. Latvian language has became the point of laughter and no examiner asks it from the student, when then Russian is compulsory everywhere.

   Its sad for me that Latvian kindergartens don’t teach the golden fund of Latvian folklore. The Latvian street names have been renamed in the names of Mayakovsky, Gorky, Sverdlow and so on. The various street names of Riga resemble the submissive history of the Latvian nation. Alexander street, Freedom Street (Brīvības iela), Adolf Hitler street, Lenin street. Its sad and angering when the name of Latvia has been became decorative name for brands like soup “Latvia”.

Deeply insulted I feel when in shop, office, public transport or other public place almost daily I encounter chauvinistic attitude towards my language.   In the best case I would hear: Чего? Чего? По-русски! (What? What? Speak Russian!). We have been encouraged by media that is natural to speak, think and write Russian. Everything is Russian according to media.

I have been brought here by my love and respect for my nation and also the oppressive ways to dismay and deplete my nation.  I believe these times will pass away like a bad nightmare. It gives me strength to breathe and carry on. Our nation has suffered enough and had learned to survive this hard time. “

After the beginning of the Gorbachev reforms and the national awakening the movement to release him became more stronger.  On the summer of 1987 a thousands of protesters organized a commision to release him. At the winter of 1987 large crowd gathered at the Supreme Soviet building demanding his release. On February 1 1988 he was released according to new amnesty law. He was met as hero by the people; many were deeply touched by his powerful last words at his court. But, his only son was gravely ill and his health was deteriorated by the long years in prison.

On March 1 1988 Gunārs Astra drove to Leningrad to sell his freshly grown set of flowers. He collapsed and  after many relocations he ended up in KGB war academy hospital. It soon became known to outside world and many offered assistance, but locals for various reasons turned down. After many misdiagnoses he was put on hearth surgery from which he did not recover and died on April 6. There was a suspicion that KGB directed medics may speeded up his death.

His funeral on April 19 1988 turned into mass event. His coffin was covered with Latvian national flag and the Latvian national anthem was sung. He was a inspiration for Latvian national leaders who realized his dream to restore the Latvian national independence.  On November 18 1993 memorial plate was placed at the Higher Court building with the excerpt of his famous last words: “I believe these times will pass away like a bad nightmare”. Gunārs Astra was a national fighter a non-conformist in a time when most choose to conform. His message of mistreatment of the Latvian language was a powerful message for those times. If the Latvia would not regain its independence its language would continue to fall astray, like many other languages of nations that still are captive under the yoke of more stronger nations.

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The Kremlin Conspiracy August 1991

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

On August 18 1991 the conspiracy by the high rank officials of the Kremlin and the KGB took place. A group of Soviet hardliners tried to avert the fall of the Soviet Union. In the end because of their incompetence, cowardice in contrary to the bravery of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yelstsin and the defenders of the White House their plot failed. Soviet Union collapsed anyway and Latvia could once again regain its independence.

The KGB 9th division was responsible for guarding and escorting the Soviet leaders and high rank officials. In Foros, Crimea where the president of the USSR resided, his guard Vasili Kravets was in his usual duty. His everyday duty was fulfilling the needs of the officials who rested in this governmental resort. Like sending back to Moscow two jackets that the Minister of the Interior affairs Boris Pugo forgot. Or arranging a limo for one guest to visit another. Suddenly in his control system the red alarm signal of the radio station “Alternativa” (Alternative) begun to flash. This meant that there is a failure in the communication line with the mansion of the president of the USSR. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Kravets immediately made contact with KGB 21st division responsible for governmental communications. They said: “We will check!”. The red signal continued to flash even more. Kravets again made contact he received the answer: “The communications have been disrupted by hill landslide, the repair works have begun!”. It was Sunday August 18 1991.

At this same moment the gates of the presidential mansion opened. The KGB codenamed this mansion as the “object Zarya”. Five Volga limos entered the mansion without invitation or announcement. The security guards could not allow such trespassing, but from the first limo the head of the KGB Security Service Yuri Plehanov and the major Vyacheslav Generalov the chief of the technical authority and the Crimea KGB chief from 9th Division colonel Lev Tolstoy stepped out. From other cars many more important Soviet officials came out. The security guards where ordered to lay down their arms and not to forget Romania where the guards defended their dictator Ceausescu and how it ended. The guards were in complete incomprehension- what it had to with Romania? There the president was deposed and the guards defended him and perished with him altogether. But here everything was suppose to be alright?

The mansion was sealed with additional guards from Moscow. The telephone lines were disrupted. Unimaginable, but the presidential mansion guarded by 500 well armed men, three defense lines, 34 border guard posts, special task force Alfa and air fleet in the Black Sea. However, all this defense personal was not really subordinated to the president himself. They were the employees of the KGB. And it was the KGB that decided to turn the tables on the Mikhail Gorbachev who got him effectively trapped in the “Golden cage”.

The president was worried about this sudden visit. He either thought they going to put a pressure again, or try to depose him from power. The two men who trapped the Gorbachev were: Vyachelav Generalov the head of the KGB special maintenance and technical authority. His task was to take over the presidential mansion and keep the president imprisoned there. He knew everything about the mansion and was fiercely loyal. His chief was Yuri Plehanov general lieutenant the head of the KGB security service.

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The main spokespersons of the conspirators were secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee Oleg Shenin and Oleg Baklanov the head of the Military Industrial complex. According to plan Shenin was to speak first, but Gorbachev seized the moment and started to talk with Baklanov who he thought was their leader. They wanted to convince Gorbachev to step down by his own will, implying on his bad state of health and fatigue. Gorbachev said that this was out of the question and reminded about the planned signing of the New Union Treaty on August 20. The Union Law was a last straw for Gorbachev to save the USSR, but everyone knew that the Baltic states will not going to sign it. They said to him that there will be no such treaty and the head of the Russian Federal Socialist Republic Boris Yeltsin is arrested. He then corrected himself: will be arrested! The conspirators shamefully asked “Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich! We don’t ask nothing from you. Remain here for some time. We will do all the dirty work for you!” Gorbachev insisted that he will not resign and go into any ventures. Then the chief of the USSR Land forces general Valentin Varenikov lost his patience and shouted “Resign!”. He shouted angry remarks about the bad shape of the army, the shameful retreat fro East Germany and the nationalists that do what they want. In the end Gorbachev stood firm against the plotters and asked to inform their masters in Moscow to call the Higher Council or the Party Congress. Plotters in shame left the mansion. Despite the enormous force they had, they could not force their president to resign.

The conspirators  in Moscow were anxious.  The Soviet defense minister Dmitri Yazov informed the army command and issued that the state of emergency is possible. Yazov announced that all resources had to be taken control of. All  state services and the civil security. The Moscow Guard 2th mobile riflemen division  and 4th guard tank division had to take over the city. The 106th Tula paratrooper division was called to Moscow. The conspirators who called themselves the State Committee on the State of Emergency (SCTE) (Государственный комитет по чрезвычайному положению, ГКЧП) with the Minister of the Interior an ethnic Latvian Boris Pugo and the chief of the KGB Vladimir Krychkov issued a state of emergency.

These people were the hardline communists or even neo-Stalinists. Dmitri Yazov a WW2 veteran and Soviet patriot could not bear with the changes made by Gorbachev and the direction the Soviet empire is heading to. Soviet army was forced to leave East Germany and other former Eastern European satellites. Soviet army was unable to stop separatism in the Caucasus and in the Baltic states. Both the KGB and the Soviet army were ready to suppress them with extreme force. But, no direct order from Gorbachev ever followed. Gorbachev himself was against the independence of the Baltic states or other republics. But, he was caught up with the promises to the western leaders, his own mistakes and in belief that things can be solved diplomatically. After the events in Riga and Vilnius in January 1991, he was no longer trusted both by the west and his aides. His principal mistake was to fire the liberal reformers with who begun his Perestroika policy and surrounded himself with hardliners from KGB and the army.

The chief of the KGB Valentin Krychkov was constantly afraid from the “influence agents” from abroad who wants to topple the Soviet Union. He blamed them for the rotten state economy. His most paranoid belief that the western countries are trying to artificially downsize the number of the Soviet citizens. According to his “information’ the CIA plans to lower the demographics of the USSR by 150-160 million people. The Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov considered his western counterparts a “saboteurs”. The Soviet Vice President Genady Yanayev was an ambitious man who felt himself endangered by the incoming changes. All these men feared the signing of the New Union Treaty that would make for some of them to lose their jobs.

The New Union Treaty would replace 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and replace the USSR with a new country Union of Sovereign States. It would be a less centralized state with more freedoms to participating republics. However, the Baltic States, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia were not going to sign therefore fully breaking away from Moscow. Also people such as Yanayev and Pavlov would lose their jobs. After Gorbachev had removed the Communist party monopoly of power, on March 1990 a plot was born to remove the liberal reformers and encircle Gorbachev with hardliners. They succeed by removing a Gorbachev long time ally Alexander Yakovlev. Other two enemies the Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin  Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR were far tougher enemies and was on the arrest list.

After the conspirators learned that Gorbachev had rejected a plea to resign by his own will, the conspirators wanted to remove his power because of his illness. After long hesitation Gennady Yanayev wrote the directive of taking the presidential office. They had lost the legitimacy they hoped to get from Gorbachev now they were playing a dangerous game. The speaker of the Soviet parliament Anatoly Lukyanov also was dissatisfied with the New Union Treaty, however when the conspirators informed about their actions and asked to join, he denounced their actions. However, he merely just asked them to remove him from their plotter list.

First arrests begun on the morning of August 19. The head of the Human rights “Schit” Nikolay Pavlenko met the SCTE men with a tear gas canister and an ax and managed to hurt them before his arrest. However, they could not arrest Yeltsin. He was able to leave his house and with his collage Ruslan Hasbulatov open the extraordinary meeting of the RSFSR Supreme Council. Soviet tanks were present at RSFSR building also called White House, but were not willing to shoot at anyone. Yelstin used this and stepped on one their tanks and declared that the coup has taken place and the legally elected president has been deposed. He asked for all Soviet citizens not to listen to the SCTE. It was a definite moment, the conspirators now encountered a serious enemy. Meanwhile Gorbachev was sealed off from all radio and TV sources and heavily guarded. The head of the Ukrainian SSR   Leonid Kravchuk accepted the coup and did nothing for the president who was imprisoned on his territory.

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

However, on August 19 things were still looking bright for conspirators. Except the Baltic States no serious protests took place. Radio stations and newspapers considered rouge were closed. In theory they had enough force to suppress any kind of resistance. But, then on 15:00 first reports of protests and strikes within mainland Russia begun. Yanayev with a shaking hands took a press conference in front of Soviet and foreign journalists. He lied about Gorbachev health state. Meanwhile in the Crimea the major of Yalta where the Gorbachov lived warned Generalov who was responsible for the mansion, that since Gorbachev is no longer in office, the mansion will no longer receive food supplies. To solve this issue, Generalov summoned his employee to Yalta. There Gorbachev ordered to send a letter of two demands – 1) give an airplane to return to Moscow 2) restore communications. This packet was sent and reached Yanayev.

Meanwhile Yelstin had issued that all Interior forces, army and KGB units should subordinate to the president of RSRSR that was Yelstin himself. On the night of 19-20 August the commander of the Taman tank division major Sergei Yevdokimov was not informed why his tanks are in the city center. He only learned the true reason from the crowds that started to gather in thousands. People asked him and his men to join the Yelstin side. They placed metal bars in the tank tracks to make them immobile. He then soon met the RSFSR parliament members who convinced him that this is a conspiracy and Gorbachev is trapped in Crimea. They asked to help him to defend the White House against the possible assault. Major Yevdokimov agreed and when he went back to his men he heard the news on the radio about him joining the Yeltsin forces. He only managed to move six tanks out of 10 because first barricades were built and to escape accidents he left the remaining tanks on the bridge. He himself never acknowledged that he actually joined the Yeltsin ranks, but just agreed to move tanks closer to the White house to escape the civilian causalities.

After watching the infamous press conference on TV Gorbachev asked if Yanayev has received his demands. After not getting any affirmative answer he decided to make an unusual and a desperate step. Since all communication equipment was confiscated he used an amateur TV  camera to record his message to the world. He stated that the reason for his removal was false and its an unconstitutional coup. The message was recorded perfectly, his wife and son in law then dismounted the VHS cassette and planned the way on how to send it to Moscow.

On the morning of 20 August the SCTE was aware of their worse situation. They were unable to impose order in the streets of Moscow and the main rivals were free to whatever they want. Yeltsin who was still free because of the incompetence of the capturing team, was now set to be arrested. Also the parliament building of the RSFRS had to be attacked. The plans were thought out how to do it. The operation was called “Thunder” coincidentally a same name was given to unrealized Stalin’s plan to attack Germany in 1941… However the Generals were worried about the large crowds and barricades and the armed defenders of the White House. The attack was set to start on August 21 at 3:00. The attack would involve regular soldiers, tanks, special forces and snipers.

Yeltsin had called a large rally at 12:00 despite the ban on public gathering thousands came. The Whole Soviet Union was alarmed by the never seen before manifestation. At 20:00 the SCTE held a meeting and realized they are standing on very thin base. Many soldiers joined the protesters. The Eho Moskvi Radio station was not closed because one colonel defended it and now it became the main voice of opposition. The whole square of the White House was filled with large crowds, many were armed with Molotov cocktails.   Then at 21:00 a woman entered the barricades and claimed she has very important information. She was taken to the headquarters of the defenders of the White House.  She claimed her husband a KGB officer has received orders to take part in the attack that would begin at 3:00. Later he masked in hood appeared himself and warned about the special task force Alpha attack. Radio issued all women to leave the square. Defenders gathered in companies and squads made a living defense line. The element of surprise was lost.

Soviet tanks near the White House

Soviet tanks near the White House

Meanwhile the Alpha team was uneasy about their given task. Many did not want to kill their own government and the people. Such an attack would cause enormous losses of life’s on both sides. And the mass media attention from the whole world was more than ever. The SCTE order was insane, and even the Alpha team understood this and in the end asked to cancel the order. At 24:20 a brief battle erupted between the Taman tank division and the protesters in the Sadovoje koļco tunnel on the way to the White house. The curfew was issued to prevent the people from entering the White House square. The Taman tank division was tasked to ensure the curfew. As they moved towards the Smolensk square, they were attacked with stones. Armored vehicles broke through the trolleybus barricades. But, a war journalist first rank captain Mihail Glovlko was standing in the way with the raised hands, he was hit by the fast moving vehicle.  At that moment a 23 year old Afghan war veteran jumped Dmitri Kromar on the BMP 536 vehicle and tried to cover its sightseeing hatch to make it “blind.” The BMP tried to steer its turret to get him off and succeed. But by the hitting the  pole the hatch  opened. Kromar chased the BMP and jumped in it trough the open hatch. BMP made a swift move and threw him out, but his clothes get stuck in the open hatch dragging Kromar on the ground as the BMP moved backwards. 37 year old Vladimir Usov rushed to help and was shot dead by the warning shots from BMP crew.  Another protester throwing rocks Krichevsky was also killed.

All this made the General Yazov to finally cancel the order to attack the White House. It was a suicide for him and the whole coup, but it was the only possible solution. Two KGB mobile brigades was just an hour from the main target. Meanwhile, a special task force landed in the Crimea and was ready to storm the Gorbachev mansion. On August 21 Yazov decided to miss the SCTE morning meeting, making things worse. Now the last chance to save something was flying back to Crimea. On 14:15 Yazov, Baklanov, Lukyanov and others took the plane to Crimea.

However, Yeltsin also wanted to visit Gorbachev. Krysckhov chief of KGB did everything to prepare the SCTE visit in time. He received a message that the SCTE time for the Gorbachev visit was over and at 16:00 the Yeltsin delegation will fly to Foros. Krychkow said that he would join the delegation and asked to postpone the flight until the evening. It was a lie and it was only discovered once the SCTE plane was already in the air. Yeltsin was unable to get there before them and only could bring the plane down which he refused. Conspirators landed at the airfield filled with marines ready to strike the presidential mansion. However, they were convinced that they will be greeted peacefully for a cup of tea.

Instead they were greeted with AK-47’s and Gorbachev refused to talk to them before the arrival of the Yeltsin delegation. Meanwhile the Yeltsin TU-154 airplane made circles around the Belbeck airfield. They were refused to land. After Gorbachev’s communications were restored, the plane landed. KGB special forces silently left the airfield. The Russian government were the ones who brought back Gorbachev home to Moscow. But this was no longer the country he once ruled.

The Baltic States declared full independence and were officially supported by the majority of the world countries. All other Soviet republics followed suit. On August 29 the Communist Party was officially shut down and made illegal. On December 8 the USSR was officially dissolved.

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

The August Coup attempt was a heavy defeat for the KGB and the ultra patriotic army officials. However, the  KGB survived   and transformed into FSB the Federal Security Service. For many years these people sought to revenge on those who managed to break down the Soviet empire. In the end they succeeded – an ex KGB officer and the director of the FSB Vladimir Putin took over the modern Russia. Since then the Russian policy is based on revenge and revision. It’s a question if a similar situation  where the army and security forces will choose to support the people or to attack the White House like in 1995 by the Yeltsin orders. The Putin’s Russia has not yet reached this critical point and lets hope it will not reach it the same way.

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KGB in Latvia

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The Soviet Secret Service widely known as Committee for State Security or KGB was a direct successor of the All-Russian Extraordinary Committee to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage or simply known as Cheka founded in 1917. Since then the Soviet secret service has changed its name many times. It was known as OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, MGB and finally from 1954 as KGB.  But, the very basis of this secret police has always stayed the same: strict protection of the communist party and its power. The KGB was omnipresent in every part of the Soviet life and it did everything to combat any means of the anti-Soviet movement.  For 50 years KGB also did everything to keep Latvia under the Soviet Iron fist.

During the first years after the war, the Secret police was preoccupied with battling the armed resistance movement. There were even cases of CIA and M16 involvement when Western allies sent special commandos to aid the national partisans. The CIA and M16 had naive belief that the partisan movements in the Baltic States and the Eastern Europe will weaken the Soviet Union and would help to crush it. However, the NKVD was aware of this and all western agents fell in their traps. The national partisan movement was eventually crushed and KGB now was more afraid of the non-violent resistance.

The Khrushev “Thaw” pawed way for more freedoms for the intelligentsia. For instance Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was freed and released his eponymous One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which revealed the Stalinist crimes. This made many to question the Soviet policies and their past. As Khrushchev was deposed, KGB started to combat such authors. On 1967 the new Fifth Department was made in the ranks of the KGB to combat “ideological diversions”. KGB believed that the intelligent anti-Soviet movement is directed by the Western secret service. Before that the task combating the “anti-Soviet elements”  was given to the Second Department of the counter-intelligence. While the Second Department was searching for foreign agents the Fifth Department now was searching for ideological dissidents.

The usual task was monitoring the Latvian emigration and foreign radio stations. The creative intelligentsia – artists, writers, actors and composers were under the KGB watch.  The Latvian nationalist movements like “Helsinki-86”, “Latvian National Independence Movement” and the “Environmental Club” was monitored and persecuted. When “Latvian Peoples Front” became the most active force for independence it was under the KGB watch. The KGB also monitored the national minorities like Germans and Jews. The KGB was involved in youth and student activities and closely watched them.

The nationalism was a prime concern for the KGB. Latvia was overflown with immigrants from the Soviet Union. The cultural differences between Latvians and the immigrants was very visible. Despite the official calls for national equality the Russian speaking immigrants were more privileged than  local Latvians. Also the Russian language was placed above Latvian language. However, Latvians themselves did not do much to force immigrants accept Latvian language and culture. For instance in Estonia, the local Estonians were more reluctant to speak Russian and enforced their rules on immigrants. Immigrants in Latvia took the Latvian passivity for granted and dictated their rules. This all made very bad national micro-climate in the national relations. However, most Latvians understood that the regime is too stable to stood openly against it.

Because of that KGB was occasionally accusing people of “masked actions against the Soviet order”. This usually involved private conversations where people condemned the Soviet power and praised the pre-war Latvian Republic. KGB had informants in many working collectives. The KGB was concerned about people who refused to hang out the flag of LSSR or USSR. The KGB also discovered that in case of foreign invasion the locals cannot be trusted. Two fake groups landed with parachutes near Ventspils. First group head for the city and was discovered and stopped. Other one was heading inland and met many locals, who did not report them.

Soviets destroyed many monuments built-in the time of the Latvian Republic. However, they were unable to remove the Monument of Freedom and the Brothers War Cemetery. At least what could they do was placing trolleybus depot around the monument. However, people still went there and placed flowers. They were arrested by militsya (Soviet police) and taken to KGB. KGB was aware that many people on every November 2 in so-called Totensonntag – the Lutheran commemoration day for the death comes to commemorate not their relatives, but the leaders of the Latvian Republic. People like the first president of Latvia – Jānis Čakste and general Jānis Balodis. Many restrictions were made and cemeteries were monitored day and night.

Soviets were afraid of the international radio broadcasting. Latvian leading companies VEF and Radiotehnika made brilliant receivers, however they could also receive the Western broadcasts aimed at Latvians. The Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America had their Latvian service. From 1948 Soviets built powerful jamming systems. People who listened to western broadcasters were reported and arrested by KGB. For a short time in the Seventies the jamming was halted when the relations with the US improved. Soon after the crushing of the “Solidarity” movement, the jamming was resumed until it was halted completely in 1986.

KGB was suspicious about Latvians leaving Soviet Union for trips and people from the West arriving here. KGB checked every application for visa. Often when large group of tourists went on a trip, a KGB informant was included to control them. KGB was worried about the intentions of the Latvian exiles who entered Latvia to meet their relatives. Actions were made to monitor them and ideologically influence them. In return Latvian exiles started to view their compatriots who visited Latvia with suspicion. KGB installed listening devices in the main hotels, after the collapse of the USSR they were removed in secret.

KGB was also aware of the anti-Soviet literature. Many sailors brought it home and sell it as contraband. Books by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or the Latvian exiled authors were confiscated. Local intelligentsia made self published books or samizdat. The restricted books were kept in special funds and could only be viewed with special permission. Sometimes even the most loyal communists were affected by the restricted literature.

  Singing songs with national content was also a crime. Old songs from the pre-war times or even worse the Latvian Legion songs were viewed as deeply danger0us. As new tape-recorders were invented, the possibility of copying illegal songs became widespread. The Latvian famous band in exile “Čikāgas Piecīši” became a fad. Everybody had heard about them, but nobody had seen them. KGB disliked the hippy movement and later rock music. Being a hippy or a rocker was soon understood as a sign of dissent. KGB was unable to stop them. Rock bands inspired by the western music appeared. Although it was unthinkable to write openly critical songs, many had “between the lines”. Rock band “Pērkons” (Thunder)  was the experts in this. Even when they were officially shut down, they reformed under the name “Soviet Latvia” and authorities were unable to stop them. After new perestroika policy, the song texts became more aggressive and  open calling for independence. That’s why many call the regaining of independence as “the singing revolution”.

The youth was viewed as potentially dangerous factor to the Soviet power. Soviet ideal youngster first went trough Pioneer movement, then entered the Komsomol – the Young Communist movement and joins the party in result. But, not all were so perfect. Some secretly embraced the national ideals, others joined punk, hippy and Hare Krishna movement. People caught doing anti-Soviet stuff was put under “prophylaxis” that meant ideological re-education. In schools and higher education facilities informants were placed to report illegal activities. The school teachers and lecturers were also under the KGB pressure.

KGB was eager to fight political dissidents. One of the most famous Latvian political dissident was Gunārs Astra. Despite many persecutions and imprisonments he was far from giving up. In his last court he spoke openly about the russification and occupation and said prophetic words “I believe that this time will go away like bad nightmare”. Astra died in prison. Writer Knuts Skuejenieks spent 7 years in Mordovia prison. Lidija Lasmane Doroņina suffered from many arrests and imprisonments. Latvian dissidents were often stabbed in the back by traitors employed by the KGB. KGB was capable of placing listening bugs in the dissident apartments and also listen to the telephone conversations. The head of the KGB Yuri Andropov even wanted to bug the phones of every Moscow citizen. They told him that its technically possible, but it would require enormous size of workers to monitor all the conversations.

The Jewish minority who survived the Holocaust was thankful to Soviets for rescuing them. However, the Soviets answered by suppressing the Zionist movement and openly condemned Israel. Not only that – the commemoration of the Holocaust was deemed as nationalistic. Soviet propaganda disregarded genocide against individual nations, because everyone in USSR was officially viewed as the “united soviet nation”. The mass murder site at Rumbula forest was the center of the Zionist activities. People gathered there to commemorate the victims and placed signs. KGB chased them away and removed the monuments. Eventually Jews managed to place commemorative stones, if they would not include the word “Jewish” and no Jewish symbolism. If not the Star of David was scrapped or monument was even removed. Many Jews wanted to move away to Israel or US. Soviets were desperately trying to stop this, however because of the international condemnation many thousands of Jews managed to leave.  There was even a case when a group of Latvian and Russian Jews attempted to hijack a plane in Leningrad to leave USSR. They were arrested on spot, the international condemnation saved them from death sentence. Also local Baltic Germans who still lived in Latvia wanted to leave for West Germany sparking KGB resistance.

As the time went KGB found it more difficult to control the masses. The technologies went ahead, connections with the Western world deepened. Even illegal possession of western porn movie was seen as act of anti-Soviet resistance. But, when Gorbachev introduced his democratic reforms the KGB became paralyzed. The work of the KGB was thwarted by many new liberties and the Western eyes were watching on the Baltic State more than before. First nationalistic movement Helsinki-86 in 1987 who heated up the society by openly commemorating the deportations of June 14 and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were halted and their leaders exiled. However in 1988 the KGB was unable to stop people waiving national flags and chanting nationalist slogans. All national organizations were monitored, but even placing informants and provocateurs did not help. The economic failure of the USSR was eminent and large masses now stood against the Soviet order.

KGB now have to answer a tough question – return to Stalinist style repressions or let the country collapse. The return to Stalinism was impossible, Gorbachev had promised too much  to the western leaders. Baltic States and Moscow was full with western media. Everyone wished for Soviets to “go west”. After the communist party lost its monopoly and Latvia declared restoration of the independence, KGB played a desperate double game. By using the “Interfont” movement and special OMON forces, KGB hoped to spark national violence to install presidential order from Moscow. When it failed, the last straw was the 1991 August coup. After the coup failed large crowd entered the KGB headquarters in Stabu street. The KGB agents were forced to handover ID cards and all of their archives. KGB was made illegal. Current law states that ex KGB agents cannot take in the politics. However, many of them owns large businesses like Juris Savickis the head of the energy company Itera, that imports the gas from Russia. The full list of KGB agents are yet to published, however the large part of the KGB archives are available to researcher allowing us to see the real nature of this draconian institution.

Selected History:

Bergmanis,Aldis, Zālīte, Indulis.(2007) Latvijas PSRS Valsts drošības komiteja un sabiedrības ideoloģiskā kontole (1965-1990). In book: Okupētā Latvija 1940-1900. Latvijas vēsturnieku komisijas raksti 19. sējums. Rīga. Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds.

Bleiere, Daina. (2012) Eiropa ārpus Eiropas : dzīve Latvijas PSR. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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The Irbene Radio Telescopes

The main RT-32 antenna in the forest of Irbene

The main RT-32 antenna in the forest of Irbene

Hidden in the dense coastal forests of Slītere a mysterious ex-Soviet spy center lays now used for science. Almost everyone including me who entered the site of the two large radio telescopes called Irbene, are amazed by the surrealistic atmosphere made by the abandoned ghost town and two large radio dishes in the middle of nowhere. This article will tell more about this site.

As the Cold War between US and USSR entered above Space, the need for Space espionage made Soviets to design ways to track and decode signals from US satellites.   The project begun in 1967 when the remote areas of the Ventspils district was allocated to secret buildup of object codenamed “Starlet”. The location was chosen because of dense low populated forest areas of Slītere that also was part of the Soviet border zone – so that no stranger could not ever discover this object.

The Close up the RT-32 dish

The Close up the RT-32 dish

The main object for space intelligence was a  32-metre, fully steerable parabolic, centimetre-wave range antenna (RT-32) and a 16-metre diameter antenna (RT-16).  The bigger one is the largest radio telescope in northern Europe and the world’s eighth largest.  Both objects are connected with an underground tunnel. In Soviet times there were more than two such antennas, even six that were later dissembled by the Soviets. Around the antennas a secret town was built for working stuff and guards. A 9 story apartment blocks, barracks, kindergarten and even school was built there. The working stuff could not leave the town without special permissions and the army made sure no one ever made close to the site.

The Second RT-16 antenna

The Second RT-16 antenna

It’s still not widely known what the KGB was doing there. The radio telescopes were probably used to spy on NATO Space communications, satellites,  space craft and also aircraft. It is said that the antennas were so sensitive that they could track a mobile phone signal if it was sent from one of the Saturn’s moons  and follow the aircraft that flies near the Horizon. The great importance that Soviet secret service gave to this object was clearly shown after the fall of Soviet Union. As in case of Skrunda Radar station the Russian government wanted to keep this object in their possession for unlimited time. However, Latvian government demanded to leave all Soviet objects at once. The object was only revealed to the public in 1993. When Latvian members of the Office for controlling the withdrawal of the Russian army entered the site, for their astonishment they found the members of the Russian secret service the FSB rushing to disable the object.

The tunnel connecting both radio telescopes

The tunnel connecting both radio telescopes

The FSB removed all the smaller antennas, and left only two bigger ones. But, they made them unusable, by cutting all the cables, hammering nails in the wires and spilled acid in to equipment. Worse, than that some leading figures of the Latvian delegation for the talks of the withdrawal suggested to destroy two remaining antennas in the same matter as the Skrunda Radar Station. The historian and diplomat Mārtiņš Virsis was one of them who nearly convinced the Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs to do this. However, the object was rescued by the pressure from Latvian scientists who recognized the importance of this object for their studies.

However, it was a heavy start, as the Russians had damaged both objects and left no blueprints and information about how this object works. In 1994 the site was taken under control by the Latvian Academy of Sciences. The antenna renewal work started and in December the power was restored. In 1995 the damage made by the Russians was slowly taken away- the nails were removed and acid torn equipment was repaired. In September 19, the  Latvian Academy of Sciences decides to found “Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre” (VIRAC) as a working unit inside the Academy.  In 1996 the first space signals were tracked – the Moon and Sun and radio emission at 12. 2 GHz during the partial solar eclipse was monitored.  In 1997 the receiver completion was made for 10.5 to 11,5 GHz. In 1999 the revival of second RT-16 antenna begun.

In last decades the VIRAC become connected to the Venstpils University. The work continued and today both antennas are fully operational, but more work still needs to be done to comply them with the international standards. Latest news about the actions of the VIRAC was the tracking of near to Earth flying asteroid DA14 in 16 February 2013. This proves that the VIRAC can now took part in important space research projects.  VIRAC works together with other space centers in EU and Russia. VIRAC shows example of how with limited funds and knowledge the seemingly unusable ex-Soviet object can be restored and used for civil matters. The same could have been done with the Skrunda Radar Station.

The abandoned town of Starlet

The abandoned town of Starlet

The ghost town “Starlet” however is another story. After all working personnel abandoned it became dilapidated. Building became empty all windows were broken and everything from the buildings has been taken away. The Starlet became a sort of “mini Chernobyl”. Its only inhabitants were homeless people or scavengers looking for metal parts or other valuable pieces. In 2012 the town was set to be demolished. However, the works were soon canceled as the main supervisor of the town was brutally murdered by the locals. Because of that the town is closed to visitors.

On 2014 the main antenna dish of the RT-32 radiotelescope was removed for restoration. The antenna had suffered age deformations and needed to be restored and adjusted for further science work. On June 10 2015 antenna was restored and placed back on the telescope mast. Telescope is set to fully work again and pick up wide signals from space and serve the VIRAC in its science endeavors.

Irbene antenna on 2001

Irbene antenna on 2001

Restoration of the Irbene RT-32 radio telescope antenna June 10 2015

Restoration of the Irbene RT-32 radio telescope antenna June 10 2015

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Operation Jungle The Failed British secret service mission in the Baltic States 1945-1956

The WW2 alliance between Great Britain, US and the Soviet Union was an unusual alliance based rather on circumstances and practical need rather than true friendship and cooperation. Soon after the end of the war, the western leaders found out that they have encountered a new much dangerous rival the Soviet Union. A gigantic nation, with large army that had seized control over all Eastern Europe, getting its grip on China and East Asia and entering the Middle East. The danger to western world from Stalin was far more greater than Hitler can ever possess.  So it did not took long for British secret service SIS (MI6) and American CIA to devise plans to spy on Soviet Union and attempt to sabotage it from the inside. And the occupied Baltic States was the perfect spot for such operations. And so begun an infamous and forgotten British spy affair in the Baltic states.

Intelligence across the Baltic sea was reconnected at 1943. It was difficult and controversial at the start, for Soviet Union was still officially the British ally and most of the Baltic agents were anti-communists. Many thought that to stop another Soviet Occupation was to intensify the cooperation with Germans a much shared thought that time. Others hoped that Britain will cancel its alliance with the Soviets and come to help the Baltic states. Already at the start the British failed the Baltic hopes. Estonian resistance member Evald Aruvald recalled that they had passed to British details of their strength and positions at the front, and they in turn passed this information to the Soviets. It was a great damage to the Estonian fight against the Soviets that they regarded as their main enemy.

The British involvement in the Baltic resistance movement started with Alexander “Sandy” McKibbin, born in per-revolutionary Russia and the timber merchant in pre-war Estonia and also a SIS spy. During the war he worked in SIS station at Stockholm. His main job was to spy on Nazis in the Baltic states, that had occupied them on 1941 and was fighting losing defensive battle against the advancing Soviet forces. The Lithuanian underground fighters who were hoping to restore the national independence contacted the McKibbin in Sweden who signed him up. Soviets were equal enemies to Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians just as the Nazis. Soviet Union had first occupied the Baltic states at 1940, then Germany at 1941 and again Soviets at 1944 entered the Baltic states. Patriots and nationalists had no other choice to fight a three-way war.

For the British the Baltic independence was not a basic necessity to fight for. But, they were interested on what is happening in the occupied Baltic states to know if the Soviets are planning a further Push westwards. On 15 October  1945. the SIS sent a boat from Sweden to Latvia with four agents on reconnaissance mission. Unfortunately the boat capsized and the agents were captured and tortured.  Their ciphers and radio transmitters fell into hands of Jānis Lukašēvičs a Latvian KGB officer. Instead of just waiting for more spies to come and hunt them was too risky. Instead the KGB devised a plan to use the captured information and equipment to lure more British spies into the trap. The plan was called Lursen – S, although it is usually called the “Red Web” from the British author Tom Bower book title released in 1989 as the first detailed publication about these dark events. The British journalist Edward Lucas has made further studies in this matter in his book “Deception” on 2012.

In March 1946. Lukaševičs forced a Latvian Augusts Bergmanis who had operated a radio for the British during the war to start sending messages again, claiming that the agents have given their codes and radios before  capture.  The British responded and sent two agents in 1946 to find out what happened to previous operation. But their transmitter was broken and SIS instructed them to contact with existing – KGB controlled operator. Now KGB controlled the entire British secret network. Instead of just arresting them Lukaševičs ordered to wait and keep contacts with the agents. The SIS instructed their agents who now were watched by the KGB to meet other British agents on the ground. That lead to more clues. Two stranded British agents in Latvia were arrested, a Latvian Fēliks Rumnieks was sent to make contacts with the KGB and work as the double agent and was arrested and confessed everything.

In Lithuania the KGB devised a similar sinister scheme. An American born Lithuanian Juozas Albinas Markulis was a resistance organization leader, in fact a traitor since 1944. He summoned a meeting of all the partisan leaders of Lithuania in 1947. Since Markulis had contacts with the British the majority of leaders went straight into KGB trap. In Latvia Lukaševičs also arranged a meeting in Riga between the Latvian resistance senior leaders and the representatives of “Latvian government in exile” and “British secret agent”. The unsuspecting man met the “agent” informed him about every detail of their operations and were arrested and never seen again.

In 1948 18 June the US president Harry Truman tasked the newly created CIA with propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action, sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and subversion against the hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups and support the indigenous anti-communist elements in the threatened countries in the world. That was a kick-start for American and later British secret war against the Soviet Union. After the first Soviet Nuclear Bomb tests, the War in Korea sparked great interests in Soviet Affairs. But the Western diplomats were kept in their embassies and barred from any inside information and outside world had little knowledge about what is happening behind Iron Curtain. So it was SIS and CIA tasks to do it.

The Baltic states were ideal spot for spying. The population was mainly anti-communist, the partisan movements in the forest supposedly numbered many tens of thousands. The region was accessible by boat and plane it was a forward bastion for Soviet expansion to the West, if an attack on the West would be imminent then the signs in the Baltic states would be unmistakeable.The human resources were vast, as Germany, Britain and US was filled with Baltic emigre’s a highly motivated ant-communist fighters. So the SIS secret “Operation Jungle” and CIA “Operation Tilestone” was born.

CIA placed a training camp in Kaufbeuren Germany for Baltic recruits, the SIS made a training school at 110 Old Church St, Chelsea. One of the leaders was colonel Alfons Rebane an ex Estonian Waffen SS legion officer. The trainees were taught to land from small boats, parachuting, unarmed combat and survival techniques and radio operation. However, the idea that these agents could find useful information about the Soviet forces and perform combat operations inside Soviet Union was dubious and far-fetched. Despite that British and American spymasters were pushing for it not considering the fact that they had little knowledge about the real strength of the Baltic resistance and the fact that it could be a trap. Also nobody suspected that the head of the SIS section number 9, in charge of all British anti-Soviet operations was a Soviet spy. In 1947. he moved to US where he was liaison  officer between SIS and CIA.

So KGB knew everything from the start. KGB officer Lukaševičs organized a bogus escape of a seasoned agent called Vidvuds Šveics in 1948. He contacted SIS and claimed himself as the representative of the Latvian resistance. SIS believed him. They placed him as the head of six-strong group (two from each three countries) trained by SIS. They even gave him a list of local sympathizers the ones that KGB was eager to catch. When his team landed in Lithuanian beach, Šveics separated from others and alerted the border guards, who killed both Estonians and one of the Latvians. The others fled. Šveics sent a message to SIS about his miraculous escape. By the year all the all the operation network was under the Soviet control, but the British spymasters still believed its safe and intact. Next landing in 1949, in Latvia was successful, but agents were arrested by KGB agents posing as resistance fighters.

Meanwhile in US the Americans had almost zero knowledge about the Soviet Union, its geography and military strength. Incoming intelligence was mostly trivial, spotty, garbled and out of date. The Western powers believed that Soviets can reach the English channel in few weeks and drop nuclear weapons on US already in 1949. So the parachuted thousands o emigre’s from the Baltic Sea to Black Sea. They even recruited former Nazi officers and war criminals who had great experience dealing with the Soviets.

CIA recruited Lithuanian resistance leader Lukša, who made cooperation with resistance leaders at home. However the KGB had Lithuanian resistance under control. When both SIS and CIA started to notice leak in their operation they blamed each other. But it was too late as the Baltic resistance in 1949, was mostly crushed. The mass deportations, forced collectivization had destroyed the partisan food supplies. Those who still resisted were placed under extreme torture.

However the SIS was still sending agents to Latvia. Because of the traitor, they were arrested, another Estonian who was supposed to contact them swallowed a cyanide capsule before capture. Another SIS group in 1952 was caught because of badly forged passports.  An Estonian agent Mart Mannik landed in Latvia and made it to Estonia, where local KGB officers lured him in trap a Tallinn suburbs and captured him.

Similar American and British operations ended same way in Romania, Ukraine and Albania and first alarms were raised over the Baltic mission that officially was considerate successful. However the British spy chiefs kept everything in secret and denied any problems. CIA director Walter Bedell Smith ordered to make a report on the CIA Baltic mission and the report was alarmingly negative. However, the Americans believed even if the missions are unsuccessful they cause a lot of stir and headaches for the Soviet leaders. So they send another group to Latvia in 1952 two were caught, one committed  suicide the other escaped. He had a chance of alarming the CIA about the defeat of the partisans and KGB full control, he  had radio equipment to do that. Instead he found his old girlfriend and spent all the money on her and when he was captured the Soviets determined that he did not transmit any substantial intelligence.

KGB mastermind Lukaševičs sent another agent to the west Jānis Ērglis, who had long combat experience against the partisans, now he was impersonating one. SIS again trusted him, trained him and sent him back to Latvia with four agents. They never returned to London. KGB even scammed one million rubles from SIS as support money to partisans. But, the KGB made a mistake when London requested a sample from Tobol river near the reactor where Soviets produced plutonium for their nukes. The very idea that forest partisans could cross entire Soviet Union to highly guarded installation was at least bizarre.However the KGB reacted equally incompetently. The KGB technicians produced “river water” of such lethal radioactivity that it could only been produced inside the core of the reactor. Once it was analyzed in London it was finally clear that something was seriously wrong.

CIA commissioned a independent investigation and closed its operation on 1954. British “Operation Jungle” lasted until 1956. The last message read: “We can no longer help you. Will be sending no further physical or material help. All safe houses are blown … This is our last message until better times. We will listen to you until 30 June. Thereafter God help you.” By that time the partisan movement was numbered to only few thousand demoralized beaten man who had lost hope for Third World War the western assistance and hopes for liberation. When Western world just stood by when Soviet tanks crushed Hungarian democratic revolution the trust and hope for the west was all gone.

Only few British and American agents survived the Soviet torture and imprisonment. Some spent rest of their life’s in occupied Baltic states in poor conditions, few man were released in exchange. Soviets made propaganda movies about captured western agents helping the nationalist bandits. In western world the failure was kept in secrecy for many years until last three decades after Soviet collapse has revealed, the great cost of Western intelligence service incompetence. Many men lost their life’s in Russia, Ukraine, Baltic States, Romania, Albania and China because of flawed belief that sending an armed commandos to help  national resistance could help to topple the Soviet Union. In most cases these agents fell for fake resistance members and Soviets had double agents even in their main command ranks at home. It should not be overestimated that the Operation Jungle was done for Baltic freedom, the Baltic resistance was mainly used as a tool for British an American spy games . These failed spy games also cost many life’s of Baltic freedom fighters who naively trusted the westerners who were naive themselves.

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