The Assassinations That Weren’t

The Assassinations That Weren’t

Stop sending people to kill me.  We’ve already captured five of them, one with a bomb and another with a rifle… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow; and I won’t have to send a second. — message from Tito to Stalin found on Stalin’s desk after his death.

In the days before Novichok, the Soviet Union had considerably more trouble getting rid of troublesome former allies.

And so in the soured relationship between Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito and the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin, attempt after attempt came out of Russia and missed their mark.

The assassination attempts didn’t slow Tito down – he kept up a schedule of speeches, appearances, and meetings with world leaders that had him nearly constantly in the public eye in Yugoslavia.  In fact, when the sixth would-be assassin was sent after Tito, the Yugoslav leader actually met with him.

Iosef Grigulevich, failed assassin, with Tito

Iosef Grigulevich was born in what is now Lithuania, but moved with his family to Argentina.  He was recruited by the NKVD while studying at the Sorbonne.  

Grigulevich was a part of an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Leon Trotsky in 1940 (he was not able to kill Trotsky, but did manage to wound Trotsky’s young grandchild) before being sent to carry out anti-Nazi activities in Argentina.  

In 1949 Grigulevich was given the opportunity of a lifetime: a new Costa Rican passport and background as a diplomat totally unconnected to the Soviet Union.

And it was in this guise that the previously-failed assassin was sent after Tito.  

Grigulevich settled in Rome and managed to meet with Tito several times without acting on his orders of assassination.  The mission dragged out until Stalin’s death in March 1953, ending the assignment and resulting in Grigulevich’s recall (without public explanation) to Moscow.  One day he merely disappeared from Rome.

A Tito/Grigulevich meeting

Grigulevich’s assignment was largely unknown until after the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of several intelligence files.  

He was still alive when Moscow/Belgrade relations thawed and Khrushchev visited Yugoslavia’s leader in 1955.  

You did well in protecting yourself. You had good guards and good informants who informed you about everything Stalin was planning for you,” Khrushchev admitted.

Stalin knew that I was very well guarded. After many warnings that it was enough sending assassins, he evidently got a bit scared,” Tito replied.

Tito and Khrushchev

Grigulevich himself, the assassin who had gotten closest to Tito of all, never publicly discussed any of it.

To read more about Josip Broz Tito, please click here.


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