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Documents Show FBI Kept Tabs On Stalin's Daughter After Defection

Posted: November 19, 2012

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Lana Peters, who died last year, defected to the U.S. in 1967. The Associated Press, citing newly declassified documents, says the FBI was trying to gauge how the former Svetlana Alliluyeva's defection was affecting international relations.

You may remember that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's only daughter, who had defected to the U.S. in 1967, died last year. Today, The Associated Press reports that the FBI kept close tabs on Lana Peters after her defection to determine how her presence in the U.S. was affecting international relations.

The AP obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act following Peters' death at age 85 in a Wisconsin nursing home.

Here's more from the AP story:

"One April 28, 1967, memo details a conversation with a confidential source who said the defection would have a 'profound effect' for anyone else thinking of trying to leave the Soviet Union. The source claimed to have discussed the defection with a Czechoslovak journalist covering the United Nations and a member of the Czechoslovakia 'Mission staff.'

"'Our source opined that the United States Government exhibited a high degree of maturity, dignity and understanding during this period,' according to the memo, prominently marked 'SECRET' at the top and bottom. 'It cannot help but have a profound effect upon anyone who is considering a similar solution to an unsatisfactory life in a Soviet bloc country.'"

The former Svetlana Alliluyeva went by Lana Peters after her marriage in 1970 to William Wesley Peters, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. Her defection followed the death of her husband, Brijesh Singh, an Indian Communist.

Here's how The New York Times described her defection last year:

"After Stalin died in 1953, his legacy was challenged, and the new leaders were eager to put his more egregious policies behind them. Svetlana lost many of her privileges. In the 1960s, when she fell in love with Brijesh Singh, an Indian Communist who was visiting Moscow, Soviet officials refused to let her marry him. After he became ill and died, they only reluctantly gave her permission, in early 1967, to take his ashes home to India.

"Once in India, Ms. Alliluyeva, as she was known now, evaded Soviet agents in the K.G.B. and showed up at the United States Embassy in New Delhi seeking political asylum. The world watched in amazement as Stalin's daughter, granted protection, became the most high-profile Soviet exile since the ballet virtuoso Rudolf Nureyev defected in 1961. The United States quickly dispatched a C.I.A. officer to help her travel through Italy to neutral Switzerland, but American officials worried that accepting her into the United States could damage its improving relations with Moscow. Finally, President Lyndon B. Johnson, on humanitarian grounds, agreed to admit her but asked that there be as little fanfare as possible."

Another memo seen by the AP is dated June 2, 1967. It "describes a conversation an unnamed FBI source had with Mikhail Trepykhalin, identified as the second secretary at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C."

Here's more from the AP:

"The source said Trepykhalin told him the Soviets were 'very unhappy over her defection' and asked whether the U.S. would use it 'for propaganda purposes.' Trepykhalin 'was afraid forces in the U.S. would use her to destroy relationships between the USSR and this country,' the source told the FBI.

"An unnamed informant in another secret memo from that month said Soviet authorities were not disturbed by the defection because it would 'further discredit Stalin's name and family.'"

The AP reports that many of the 233 pages released to the wire service were heavily redacted, and much of it comprised newspaper articles from the period.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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