Arkady Nikolayevich Shevchenko (Russian: Аркадий Николаевич Шевченко October 11, 1930 – February 28, 1998), a Soviet diplomat, was the highest-ranking Soviet official to defect to the West.
Shevchenko joined the diplomatic service of the Soviet Union as a young man and rose through the ranks of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, becoming advisor to Andrei Gromyko, Minister for Foreign Affairs. In 1973 he was appointed Under Secretary General (USG) of the United Nations. During his assignment at the UN headquarters in New York City Shevchenko began passing Soviet secrets to the CIA. In 1978 he cut his ties to the Soviet Union and defected to the United States.
Early life and education
Arkady was born in the town of Horlivka, eastern Ukrainian SSR, but when he was five years old his family moved to Yevpatoria, a resort town in Crimea on the Black Sea, where his physician father was the administrator of a tuberculosis sanatorium. When the Crimea was overrun by German forces in 1941, he and his mother, along with the patients in the sanatorium, were evacuated to Torgai in the Altai mountains of Siberia. The family was reunited in 1944 after the Germans were driven out of the Crimea.
Arkady graduated from high school in 1949 and in the same year was admitted to Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He studied Soviet law, Marxist, Leninist and Stalinist theory and trained to become a foreign service diplomat. He married Lina (Leongina), a fellow student, in 1951. He graduated in 1954, but continued his studies as a graduate student.
Foreign service career
In 1956 Shevchenko joined the Soviet foreign service as an attaché and was assigned to the OMO (Russian: Отдел Международных Организаций Министерства Иностранных Дел СССР, Department of International Organizations at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the USSR), a branch of the Foreign Ministry dealing with the United Nations and NGOs. In 1958 he was sent to New York City on a three month assignment to represent the Soviet Union at the annual United Nations General Assembly as a disarmament specialist.
Shevchenko attended the 1962 Geneva Committee on Disarmament Negotiations as a member of the Soviet delegation. The next year he accepted an assignment as Chief of the Soviet Mission's Security Council and Political Affairs Division at the United Nations. This being a permanent posting, his family accompanied him to NYC. He continued in this post until 1970 when he was appointed advisor to Andrei Gromyko. His duties covered a broad range of Soviet foreign policy initiatives.
In 1973 Shevchenko was promoted and became an Under Secretary General of the United Nations. Although he was nominally employed by the United Nations and owed his allegiance to that international organization, in practice he was expected to support and promote the aims and policies of the Soviet Union. He eventually became resentful of the restrictions that his Soviet superiors subjected him to which prevented him from carrying out his duties as an Under Secretary in an unbiased manner.
Espionage and defection
The early 1970s were a time of détente between the Eastern Bloc and NATO nations. SALT I, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Helsinki Accords, and other international agreements were negotiated during this time. According to Shevchenko's memoirs, he became increasingly disillusioned with Soviet compliance with these international agreements. He had immediate access to the inner workings of the Soviet foreign policy establishment and felt that the Soviet government was cheating on the intent of the agreements for short term political gain, ultimately to its own disadvantage. He also came to believe that Soviet internal economic policies and insistence on hard-line Communist centralization of power were depriving the Russian people of their freedom and ability to better themselves and their country. His long years of exposure to Western democracies convinced him that the Soviets were "taking the wrong path", economically and politically. He briefly considered resigning his position with the UN and returning to the Soviet Union in an attempt to change the system from within, but he soon came to the realization that it would have been an impossible task. He had neither the power nor the influence to effect any significant change.
By 1975 he had decided to defect. He made contact with the United States Central Intelligence Agency seeking political asylum. But the CIA pressured him to continue at his post with the United Nations and to supply them with inside information on Soviet political plans. Although fearful of the consequences if he were to be found out by the KGB, he reluctantly agreed. For the next three years, he became in effect a "triple agent". Outwardly, a dedicated servant of the United Nations but covertly promoting the political aims of the USSR and, on top of that, secretly reporting the Soviets’ hidden political agenda to the CIA.
In early 1978 he became aware of increased KGB surveillance of his movements. Then suddenly in March he received a cable from Moscow summoning him to return to the Soviet Union for "consultations". Suspicious of the demand and realizing that if he flew to Moscow he may never be permitted to return to his UN duties or even leave the Soviet Union, he called his CIA contact and demanded that they fulfil their promise of political asylum.
Unfortunately for Shevchenko, his wife Leongina, who up until that point knew nothing of his plans to defect, refused to accompany him. She was immediately whisked back to Moscow where she died mysteriously, supposedly a suicide, less than two months later. In the Soviet Union Shevchenko was tried in absentia and sentenced to death.
From 1978 until his death twenty years later in Bethesda, Maryland, Shevchenko lived in the United States and supported himself with written contributions to various publications and on the lecture circuit. In 1985 he published his autobiography, "Breaking With Moscow". In his book, he described Soviet Russia as, among other things, a gangster economy where the KGB intelligence service played a prominent role.
Shevchenko died of cirrhosis of the liver on February 28, 1998 and was buried in Washington, DC.
- List of Eastern Bloc defectors
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