Cold War Exiles and the CIA: Plotting to free Russia
Oxford University Press, £75 hb, 352 pp
Ivan Vasilevich Ovchinnikov defected to the Soviet Union in 1958. After three years in West Germany, he had had enough of the West with its hollow promises. He was a farmer’s son, and his family’s property had been confiscated and the family deported as ‘kulaks’ during Stalin’s assault on the Russian village in the early 1930s. Ovchinnikov managed to escape the often deadly exile, obscured his family background, and made a respectable career. Brought up in a children’s home, then trained in a youth army school, the talented youngster eventually entered the élite Military Institute for Foreign Languages in Moscow. In 1955, now an officer and a translator, he was sent to East Berlin as part of the army’s intelligence unit. This was a quintessentially Stalinist career of a quintessentially Stalinist social climber: most Soviets had something to hide about their past in this hyper-suspicious state, which opened opportunities only for children of the ‘right’ (i.e. proletarian) backgrounds. Then, catastrophe: his kulak father threatened to become known to his superiors, and Ovchinnikov used his position in East Germany just as he had earlier used the chances provided by Stalin’s state. The building of the Berlin Wall was still in the future; it was relatively easy to pass over to West Berlin.