Lavrentiy Beria became involved in counterintelligence activity in Georgia during the Russian Revolution. In early 1921, he joined the Soviet Secret police, and soon earned a reputation for his ruthlessness towards opponents of the Bolshevik rule. Even some Bolshevik leaders used to criticize his violent ways.
During the Georgian nationalistic uprising, which took place in 1924, Beria gained prominence for his role in quashing the rebellion. Around 10,000 people were executed during the revolution. He also won Stalin’s favor, which along with his effectiveness in using the secret police, help him further his political ambitions.
He also became known for blackmailing his superiors to gain promotions. He often set them up with married women and then later exposed them. Once they were forced to resign in disgrace, he would take over their posts.
He met Stalin for the first time in 1931, while the latter was vacationing in Georgia. It is said that Beria saved Stalin from an assassination attempt, though it is also rumored that Beria staged the attempt himself to get into Stalin’s good books.
In 1931, he was also appointed Secretary of the Communist Party. A few years later, he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. During this time, his relations with his fellow members of the Georgian Communist Party became strained and he eventually ordered a few of them to be executed.
Beria soon became one of Stalin’s most trusted men, and during Stalin’s purge of the Communist Party and government in 1934, Beria ran the purges in Transcaucasia, also using the opportunity to settle some of his old scores.
In 1938, he was brought to Moscow to serve as the deputy to Nikolai Yezhov, who was the head of the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, also known as the NKVD. Yezhov was, however, soon executed on Stalin’s orders, and because of Beria’s loyalty, he was made the chief of the secret police, as well as head of the NKVD.
During the Great Purge, Beria is known to have used the opportunity to execute many of Stalin’s old rivals. He also ordered the mass executions of thousands of political prisoners. He supervised the purge of the Secret Service bureaucracy, and set up many labour camps throughout the country, which were known as Gulags. Over 500 NVD agents and Red Army Officers were also executed under Beria. In addition, many innocent citizens were executed, most of them falsely convicted of treason.
Beria became the deputy prime minister of the USSR in February 1941. He also became a member of the State Defense Committee, and during World War II, he controlled the Soviet Union’s internal security system. In 1946, he also became a member of the executive policy making committee known as the Politburo.
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When the Germans were driven out of the Soviet soil in 1944, Beria was charged with dealing with the ethnic minorities who were accused of anti-Soviet activities. They were deported to Soviet Central Asia. The same year, his NKVD was also in charge of supervising the Soviet atomic bomb project which built and tested a bomb in 1949.
When Soviet police ranks were converted to a military uniform system in 1945, Beria became the Marshal of the Soviet Union. He played a significant role in the World War II. However, his contribution was not acknowledged by Stalin. Over the years, he was also disliked by most of his party comrades. He also reportedly kidnapped and raped young girls on the streets of Moscow.
Even though Beria was known to be very close to Stalin, when the latter grew too paranoid, he became distrustful of Beria. Stalin would have probably removed him from power; however, he passed away suddenly in March 1954.
After Stalin’s death, Beria served as one of the four deputy prime ministers under Georgy Malenkov, and was also the head of the Internal Affairs Ministry. Over the next few years, he began reversing many of Stalin’s policies. This alarmed most of his colleagues, particularly Nikita Khrushchev.
Arrest, Trial, & Execution
Though Beria tried to use his position as the secret police chief to succeed Stalin, he was unsuccessful. He was soon arrested and deprived of all his positions. He was accused of being an ‘imperialist agent’, and was executed in December 1953. Several of his associates and subordinates, such as Bogdan Kobulov, Sergey Goglidze and Vladimir Dekanozov, were also arrested.
The crimes he was found guilty of included treason, as he was alleged to have secret connections with foreign intelligence services, and attempted peace talks with Hitler. He was also found guilty of terrorism because of his major involvement in the Purge of the Red Army in 1941.
There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that Beria kidnapped, raped, and murdered several young women while he was in power. He is also said to have blackmailed their families. However, the people close to him, including his wife and son always disputed it.