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Vadim Bakatin, last head of Soviet KGB, dies at 84

Copies of Russian files gathered by the KGB on Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy were released by the US government 5 August 1999, in Washington, DC at the National Archives. Pictured here is a copy of an envelope containing a letter sent by Oswald to the Supreme Soviet asking for political asylum in the former USSR.

Vadim Bakatin, a liberal politician who briefly headed the Soviet KGB in the months leading up to the collapse of the USSR, has died at the age of 84, Russian state media said on Monday (1 August).

Bakatin was appointed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to head the security service after its previous boss, Vladimir Kryuchkov, played a leading role in a failed coup against Gorbachev in August 1991.

In a televised encounter with a former dissident, broadcast several weeks later, Bakatin said he had already found a security police dossier on his grandfather, who was executed under Josef Stalin in 1937 after being denounced by an informer.

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He also said he was open in principle to the idea of opening up KGB archives to shed light on unsolved mysteries such as the 1963 assassination of US President John F. Kennedy.

“You are right on one thing: archives concerning those mysteries in which establishing the truth has great significance for mankind – these must be opened up,” Bakatin told the ex-dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky.

Bakatin, a former Soviet interior minister, never had time to act on that pledge, as the Soviet Union collapsed within months.

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He did make headlines, however, for a goodwill gesture in which he handed over to the United States a bag full of bugging devices and a set of plans showing how the KGB had eavesdropped on the US embassy in Moscow.

A Washington Post report in December 1991 said U.S. envoy Robert Strauss recounted the incident to reporters and quoted Bakatin as saying: “I want to give them to you and I want them turned over to your government, no strings attached, no quid pro quo, in the hope that maybe we can repay you, save you some money, maybe you can use that building again someday.”

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