On October 8, 2016, Moscow newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published an interview of its correspondent Yevgeny Chernykh with Gennady Sokolov, former diplomat connected with Russian intelligence services, about Ivan Serov’s memoir Notes from a Suitcase. Gennady Sokolov has the same surname as the historian Boris Sokolov, but they are not related. Yevgeny Sokolov is the author of several books on Soviet intelligence, one of which, The Naked Spy, has been translated into English. Yevgeny Sokolov knew General Serov personally and he considers parts of the published memoir in Russian to have been falsified. Here is the main part of the interview translated by me:
Q: (Chernykh): Why did Serov conceal his archive?
A: (Sokolov): I confess, I do not understand! It’s not like Ivan Alexandrovich. He, of course, like all secret servicemen of Stalin’s time was a secretive man who trusted only himself. But not to this degree! And he had been working on the book since the 1960s. Not alone, but with the help of his wife Vera Ivanovna and son-in-law, the famous Soviet detective writer Edward Khrutsky, who wrote famous books about the MUR [Moscow Criminal Investigation Department]. So, many people knew about the memoir. Including the competent authorities [meaning the KGB].
There was a popular theory that the then head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov ordered, to withdraw the manuscript. The chief of Lubyanka considered the fact that Serov, most probably, would not give it voluntarily or under pressure. Therefore, he appealed for help to a Serov family friend … [famous defective] writer Yulian Semenov. With the assistance of his friend Khrutsky, [Semenov] fulfilled the confidential order of [Andropov]. The manuscript was placed in the secret KGB archives…
Again, the theft on Andropov’s order is only one version, although this theory became widespread in secret service circles. Documentary confirmation is unknown to me…
According to [Aleksandr] Khinstein [the editor of Serov’s memoir], who wrote the Foreword to the book, KGB Chairman Andropov’s attempt get Serov’s manuscript out of his hands and into Lubyanka through Semenov and Khrutsky failed.
I think Khinstein clearly underestimates the opportunities of the then KGB. The manuscript, at least one of its copies (Vera Ivanovna typed it), as well as the hand-written diaries appeared in the secret KGB archive. Where, by the way, handwritten heritage of many other prominent security officers and government officials USSR is still kept. Andropov’s assistant (I won’t say his name) told me [about this]. And not only him…
Q.: You were personally acquainted with the General, were you not?
A.: Absolutely. I think we managed, as far as possible, to know well each other. That is why I want to state the General did not intend to conceal his memoir in the wall. Although he was a great master of tricks.
He dreamed of publishing a memoir during his lifetime to regain his good name as a Bolshevik Party member. For instance, the party membership ID was returned to Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s ally, in 1984, two years before his death, and a journalist was even allowed to prepare a book of his memoirs. Serov was counting on a similar indulgence for himself. But no one in the Kremlin and Lubyanka shared this desire of the disgraced security officer. And, moreover, already in the 1960s, the authorities forbade the General to write. It’s true that this experienced “dissident” was not afraid of these prohibitions. He continued to work on the book and did not cease to send letters … to the [Party] Central Committee asking for review of his personal case. Of course, no review was made.
Q.: How did you meet?
A.: At the time of Gorbachev’s perestroika, I took up the investigation of three spy mysteries: the so-called “Russian trace” in the sex scandal of the British War Minister John Profumo, the death of the legendary British submariner “Buster” Crabbe, and the mysterious disappearance of the Belgian crown. In each of these cases, General Serov was the most important figure… And in the mid-1980s I had the nerve to ask for the Personal File of the first KGB Chairman in the archives of Lubyanka [i.e., KGB] and “Aquarium” (GRU). I had the support of friends at high-level offices.
Of course, my requests were rejected. Rear Admiral [Igor] Bardeev (GRU deputy chief) in his reply declared that “there is no Personal File of General Serov in the archive”…
I think through his own channels Ivan Aleksandrovich found out about my requests and decided to look at the young bugger. . . And he called me at my workplace. The next day we met. And we began to see each other as often as possible, when I was returning to Moscow from business trips abroad.
By the way, I received the secret Personal File of the first KGB Chairman Ivan Serov for review in the Lubyanka [Archive] (without opportunity to take it out or copying!) only on permission of the last KGB Chairman, Vadim Bakatin, in 1991.
Q.: Why did General Serov contact you?
A.: I think as an experienced counterintelligence officer, he made inquiries about because he felt he had a possible ally in the writing and publication of his memoirs. After all, we both faced the same problem. Our book projects at home were banned. (I was preparing the memoir The Naked Spy with Yevgeny Ivanov.)
And the Central Committee and the KGB were strongly against the publication of memoirs of former intelligence officers and, especially, of the heads of special services without special permission. Which, as we know, no one had been iven. If anyone secretly took up a pen, the manuscript sooner or later ended up on the table to the Chekists [security officers]. I remember what happened, for example, to the memoir of the outstanding Soviet military intelligence officer Georgi Bolshakov, who established a direct communication channel between Khrushchev and Kennedy in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war. The finished manuscript was seized by the Chekists from Bolshakov’s apartment immediately after his death in 1989.
Q.: Where is it now?
A.: Possibly, it is still gathering dust in the secret GRU bins, or the Lubyanka. And is not available to us. It’s a pity!
What was left to do in such circumstances? For those who were not afraid, there was the only way, — to secretly publish the book abroad at their own risk. With this plan of possible cooperation in the future, we went towards each other. As two inveterate spies, following all the rules of conspiracy. Keeping in mind the possibility of people spying on us and wiretapping our telephone conversations.
Q.: Serov? Published abroad?
A.: He had an example before his eyes. Khrushchev, who persecuted the General, as is well known, himself fell into disgrace. And to justify himself, he secretly dictated his memoirs on tape, which his son, Sergei, helped deliver to the West. In the 1970s, the book was published abroad. And why Serov was worse?
Yes, I was ready to provide the translation of the book, and to negotiate a lucrative contract with a major Western publishing house. Necessary communications and developments for this had already been done, as I was preparing for publication in London of my own books on the mysteries of intelligence. But I had no desire of working together with Serov on his book.
A.: I was not, to put it mildly, sympathetic to Ivan Aleksandrovich. I simply could not work with such a “difficult person.” I would have quarreled at the first working session.
I was primarily interested in Serov’s information on my history investigations. in order to get this information, I was ready to tolerate Serov’s bad character as much as needed. But not for a moment longer. However, there was not enough time even for my own investigation. Serov died in the summer of 1990.
Q.: And how do you like his book, found in the wall of a garage?
A.: I bought it immediately after publication. But I read it over a long time and without much interest. I think the book was simply released too late. 25-30 years ago, Serov’s memoir might have well become a bestseller. But since then, we have been oversaturated with this kind of literature and information. There is nothing new in The Notes from a Suitcase, at least, for historians. But much of that which should have been in the book is absent. But some details in its content provoked frank rejection and disagreement.
Q.: Could you be more specific, Gennady Yevgenievich?
A.: I did not find much that, in my opinion, the current Russian (and not only) reader might be interested in.
For instance, there is not a word in the Notes from a Suitcase about how in May 1945 General Serov took over the Reichsbank in Berlin, and in his own way used to appropriated values. Or about Stalin’s Black Notebook containing information compromising many of the Kremlin celestials, which he [Serov] did not want to give Khrushchev. Or about the Belgian crown that the General presented to his wife, Vera Ivanovna, but was later forced to give back the real owner, Queen Elizabeth of Belgium. Or, say, about a trip to England on the cruiser with Khrushchev, [Nikolai] Bulganin, [Igor] Kurchatov, and [Andrei] Tupolev on board, and many other things in which, in my opinion, the current reader would be interested in…
However, some information given in the book as the author’s text, in my estimation, could not belong to the pen of General Serov. Take, for example, the case of [Colonel] Oleg Penkovsky. What did Serov write about him? And did Serov write this? Penkovsky, according to Serov’s opinion in the book, was a KGB agent, carrying out an important mission of an agent provocateur, who delivered strategic misinformation to the enemy on the order of the Kremlin leadership. That is, he was not a traitor at all, but the Soviet Union hero. Consequently, Serov should have been awarded for Colonel’s deeds and not deprived of his awards and titles.
This is an absurd version, absurd. In this regard, there can be no doubt, if one knows our and the Western archival information on Penkovsky. I know it. Moreover, I talked about it with Serov. And he was perfectly aware of the details of the case. Therefore, I can’t believe what is written about Penkovsky by Serov [in the book].
Q.: So, is the book a fake, as your namesake historian [Boris Sokolov] stated on the Echo Moskvy?
A.: I’m not a supporter of derogatory and unsubstantiated claims for any reason, in any mass media.
“Boris Sokolov directly accused me that I faked diaries and records of the first KGB chairman Ivan Serov, by giving them as a historical document,” — Aleksandr Khinstein said in an interview with BBC.
I think the court will deal with this conflict.
Q.: And what is your opinion?
A.: In my opinion, the texts of Serov’s memoir have been, in fact, edited. But not by his granddaughter Serov or the former Duma [Parliament] member Khinshtein. I think they were used what is called “blind” [i.e, without their knowledge]. Already doctored documents were put inside the wall of a dacha [country house] garage, where the heiress of Serov’s dacha took them out during the renovation. Therefore, I think there is no reason for accusing Vera Serov and Aleksandr Khinstein of forging texts of the General.
Q.: Who, then, did work with the memoirs?
A.: Specifically, I can not say. But the trail leads to the history of the death of the famous diver [Lionel] Crabbe in 1956 during a visit to England Khrushchev, Prime Minister Bulganin, Serov, Kurchatov, Tupolev on the cruiser “Ordzhonikidze”. I talked in detail on this subject with Serov. Much of what he told me is retold in the book [in Russian] Line of Death. It includes a large amount of documentary information, from which it follows unequivocally that the Soviet side had not prepared the murder or arrest of the British intelligence diver. This was not simply possible to do technically in those conditions, without being noticed by the British side. Serov was aware of all events during Khrushchev’s visit and could not write in his memoir that the British diver was liquidated by us.
But this “duck” [i.e., sensational lie] for many years floats on the air of the Russian television channels provided by a certain false witness from the city of Rostov, Eduard Koltsov. It seems in his lying adventure he was strongly supported by retired KGB officers. Possibly, this “support group” also worked on Serov’s materials before they were concealed in the garage wall.
In the story of the General’s memoir many details are still unclear. But the time, I hope, will give an answer to the riddle. And my fellow historians, I believe, will explain the text “oddities” in the General Serov memoir. I paid attention not to all of them, there are others. They are assuring me that the General’s text was adjusted rather by unfortunate amateurs, than professionals. And they created an awkward situation. One needs skill for forging documents and falsifying history.