General Ivan Aleksandrovich Serov (Иван Александрович Серов, August 13, 1905 – July 1, 1990) was the head of the KGB between 1954 and 1958, and also head of the GRU between 1958 and 1963. Beforehand, he was Deputy Commissar of the NKVD under Lavrentiy Beria, and was to play a major role in the political intrigues after Stalin's death. He also helped to establish a variety of secret police forces in Eastern Europe after the rise of the Iron Curtain.
Serov was born on August 13, 1905, in Afimskoe, a village in the Vologda province of the Russian Empire. Major changes in Russia occurred during his childhood, culminating in the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917. At the age of 18, in 1923, he enlisted in the Red Army, a short time after the Russian Civil War; between 1924 and 1925 he acted as the village mayor in Afimskoe. In 1926, he joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Two years later, at 23, Serov graduated from the Military Technical College of Leningrad. Serov went on to attend the Frunze Military Academy, from which graduated in 1939, at the age of 34. In 1939 he entered the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) in a major capacity.
Serov was able to survive the Great Purge, and in 1937, Serov was tasked as the executioner of Mikhail Tukhachevsky, along with other leading Red Army figures. It is also believed that Serov had a responsibility in the deposing and execution of the Nikolai Yezhov.
Serov became the Ukrainian Commissar of the NKVD in 1939, and from this point onwards he played a major role in many of the actions of the Soviet secret police in World War II, helping to organize the deportation of the Caucasians and the peoples of the Baltic States, becoming Lavrentiy Beria's primary lieutenant in 1941.
Serov was the Ukrainian commissar of the NKVD between 1939 and 1941. He was and remains held responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian peasants in this time period. Serov was also a colleague in Ukraine of Nikita Khrushchev, the local Head of State, who himself was nicknamed the "Butcher of the Ukraine".
As well as performing his duties in this post, Serov was also responsible for the co-ordination of deportation in the Baltic States and Poland. Serov is believed to have been one of the people responsible for the Katyn Massacre. Serov, head of the "UNKVD", may have been exclusively responsible for around 15,000 of these deaths (see Executions in the Katyn Massacre).
In 1941 Serov was promoted to become Deputy Commissar of the NKVD as a whole, serving under Lavrentiy Beria as one of his primary lieutenants. In this function Serov was responsible for the deportation of a variety of Caucasian peoples. He signed Order № 001223, which called for deportations and executions in the Baltic States. He also coordinated the mass expulsion of Crimean Tatars from the Crimean ASSR in the end of WWII.
In 1946, Serov took part personally in the execution of Andrey Vlasov along with the rest of the command of the Russian Liberation Army, an organization that had co-operated with the Nazis in World War II.
Serov was one of the major figures in SMERSH, the wartime counterintelligence department of the Red Army, a deputy to Viktor Abakumov. It was in this function that Serov established the Polish Ministry of Public Security, the Polish secret police until 1956, acting as its main Soviet adviser and organizer.
In 1945, Serov was transferred to the Second Belarusian Front, and he came to Berlin in May of that year. He stayed there until 1947, helping to organize the construction of the Stasi, the East German secret police.
After the death of Stalin, Serov, who was close to Beria, betrayed him, conspiring with the officers of GRU against him. Thus, Serov was able to avoid political defeat when Beria himself experienced downfall. Serov was one of the few major figures in the secret police to survive this incident.
In 1954, Serov became Chairman of the KGB, and so the head of the larger part of the Soviet secret police. Serov organized security for the tours of Bulganin and Khrushchev, but was forced not to attend their tour to Britain in 1956 when he was decried by the British media as "Ivan the Terrible" and "the Butcher".
In 1956, the Hungarian revolution overthrew the Communist Hungarian government and in response to this János Kádár formed a new Communist government, but this received little support. Serov was responsible for denying the Hungarians audience with Soviet negotiators, sparking violence in Budapest between his troops and the Hungarians.
Serov organized deportations of Hungarians and that of Imre Nagy. Serov co-ordinated the seizing of Pál Maléter, the Hungarian General, and the disruption of peace talks between the Red Army and the Hungarian freedom fighters.
Serov was removed from his post as head of the KGB in 1958 after hints by Nikita Khrushchev, who had said that Western visitors could expect that they "wouldn't see so many policemen around the place", that the Soviet police force would undergo a restructuring. Serov was moved from his post to that of Executive of GRU.
As head of GRU, Serov presided over one of the most corrupt periods of that entity's history. This was a period where GRU gave more information to the United States than it gained from it. He was also a player in the Cuban Missile Crisis, helping the Soviet leadership with American intelligence. After the failure of the Soviet Union to gain the upper hand in the Crisis, and the disintegration of order within GRU, Serov was dismissed from the position, and in 1965 was stripped of his Party membership, bringing to an end his career.
Serov, however, lived on to die in 1990, a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Although Serov tends to be estimated less significant than Lavrentiy Beria in modern literature, his actions helped to bring in Stalinism to Europe and to intensify the Stalinist process in the Soviet Union. Serov's consolidation of Soviet power in Eastern Europe was helped by his organization of both the UB in Poland and the Stasi in East Germany.
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