Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator who ordered the executions of millions of people, was himself murdered by trusted aides or at least allowed to die untreated after collapsing at home, a new book claims.
The official Soviet government line was that Stalin died March 5, 1953 - 43 years ago Tuesday - after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and a stroke.
But Russian writer and playwright Edvard Radzinsky says in his new biography, “Stalin,” that the dictator was probably poisoned by a bodyguard acting on orders from Lavrenti Beria, the dreaded head of the Soviet secret police.
When another bodyguard found Stalin lying on his bedroom floor in a puddle of his own urine, Beria and other top government officials, including Nikita Khrushchev, refused to summon medical help for more than 13 hours, hastening his death, Radzinsky said in an interview Monday.
“If they did not kill him by poison, they killed him” by withholding medical care, he said.
“For me it was a really great shock, because I didn’t believe it that these cowards, his comrades-in-arms … were able to do something like this.”
Radzinsky’s book is based on interviews - including new, sworn testimony from the bodyguard who discovered the dying Stalin - and a trove of previously secret documents in government, Communist Party and KGB archives.
Radzinsky says Beria ordered Stalin’s death out of fear he would soon be executed - the fate of previous secret police chiefs. Soon after Stalin died, Beria was in fact killed by a firing squad.
Radzinsky says he detected the first clues in accounts by three of Stalin’s bodyguards found in the State Archive of the October Revolution.
Two of them said that hours before he suffered his stroke, the nocturnal, workaholic Stalin gave them an unprecedented order: “I’m going to bed. I shan’t be wanting you. You can go to bed, too.”
But the bodyguard who found Stalin on the floor, Peter Lozgachev, told Radzinsky in an interview that the order did not come directly from Stalin; rather, it came from another bodyguard who went home before Stalin was found.
Bodyguards called Beria and others - including Khrushchev, Stalin’s eventual successor - to Stalin’s home, but the leaders said Stalin was sleeping and left without summoning doctors.
“Beria did not hurry, as he knew something more,” Radzinsky said, adding that the leaders went back to the Kremlin to divide up power.
Radzinsky acknowledges he has no firm evidence. But he says only Beria was in a position to arrange Stalin’s murder and that it was probably committed by the bodyguard who told the others to go to sleep. Radzinsky identified the alleged killer as Ivan Khrustalev.
Radzinsky says that on the day he died, Stalin planned to begin the mass deportation of Soviet Jews to Siberia and the republic of Kazakhstan - an act calculated to provoke the West and start World War III.
Stalin was confident he could win such a war and destroy capitalism. But he had to move quickly, before his half-ruined, half-starved country collapsed.