Arkady Shevchenko, the highest-ranking Soviet diplomat to seek asylum in the United States, quietly was working on a book about the Soviet Union’s foreign policy establishment when he died in a Washington suburb, the head of a group that helped defectors said Tuesday.
Considered the CIA’s catch of the 1970s, Shevchenko defected in April 1978. When he announced through his attorney that he would not go home, Soviet officials claimed he was being held in the United States “under duress.”
“It’s really a shame that someone who contributed so much to this country and to the West in general had such an unfortunate and lonely end here,” said Bill Geimer of the Jamestown Foundation. The organization promoted high-level defections from the Soviet Union and provided career counseling and other help to defectors.
Shevchenko died Feb. 28 in his home in Bethesda, Md., from an apparent heart attack. He was 67.
Shevchenko was undersecretary-general of the United Nations in the mid-1970s when he began providing secrets to the CIA. Before taking the U.N. post, he was secretary in Moscow to Andrei Gromyko, then the Soviet foreign minister.
After his defection, Shevchenko wrote the best-selling book “Breaking with Moscow,” commanded lucrative lecture fees and lived in a well-to-do Washington neighborhood.
But his book said the road to success was not easy and that his CIA handlers had proved insensitive to the trauma of defection. The KGB whisked his wife back to Moscow where she reportedly committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
In the fall of 1978, Shevchenko was involved in a bizarre kiss-and-tell security scandal when a Washington call girl named Judy Chavez charged publicly that she was being paid by the CIA to provide sex for him. The ensuing publicity, Geimer said, devastated Shevchenko.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Shevchenko disappeared from public view.
“When ‘Breaking with Moscow’ was published, interest in the Soviet Union and Soviet-U.S. relations was at a peak, but the breakup of the U.S.S.R. dissipated a great deal of that interest,” Geimer said. “He just went quiet after a while, becoming almost a recluse, in contrast to many other former defectors who remain active.
“He went to work on material that he thought would be of historical interest,” Geimer said, adding that at the time of his death, Shevchenko had been working on an analysis of the Soviet foreign policy decision-making apparatus.
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