List of Soviet and Eastern Bloc defectors

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Soon after the formation of the Soviet Union, emigration restrictions were put in place to keep citizens from leaving the various countries of the Soviet Socialist Republics,[1] though some defections still occurred. During and after World War II, similar restrictions were put in place in non-Soviet countries of the Eastern Bloc,[2] which consisted of the Communist states of Eastern Europe.[3][4]

Though Albania was considered a minor member of the Eastern Bloc of Communist nations, there was one relatively important defection of a major intelligence officer in 1949. Nesti Josifi Kopali was reputedly the press officer at the tiny Albanian legation in Rome, but faced recall to Tirana due to his inauspicious accomplishments as chief of the Albanian security service (Sigurimi) in Italy, where there were a fairly large number of zealously anti-Communist political exiles. Kopali offered himself to the U.S. Embassy in Rome in late 1949, but was rejected, so he turned to Italian intelligence. After a couple of months of interrogation by the Italians, Kopali was turned over to the CIA, which flew him to Washington DC for debriefing. Kopali had, among his other anti-western assignments in 1946-47, tried and failed to set up a liaison with the editor of an ethnic newspaper in Boston. In 1950, Kopali provided some valuable information about Albanian security/military matters to the Americans, but not enough for the U.S. Government to offer him political asylum and resettlement in the United States. He was ultimately flown back to Germany, where he was put in a detention camp and caused U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps officials fits with his efforts to refashion some kind of future, even a return to Albania. His ultimate fate has never been divulged by U.S. government officials, though one person said Kopali may have ended up in a mental hospital in Greece. [5]

Up until 1952, however, the lines between East Germany and the western occupied zones could be easily crossed in most places.[6] Accordingly, before 1961, most of that east-west flow took place between East and West Germany, with over 3.5 million East Germans emigrating to West Germany before 1961.[7][8] On August 13, 1961, a barbed-wire barrier, which would become the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin, was erected by East Germany.[9]

Although international movement was, for the most part, strictly controlled, there was a steady loss through escapees who were able to use ingenious methods to evade frontier security.[10] Numerous notable Eastern Bloc citizens defected to non-Eastern Bloc countries.[11] Among the notable defectors from East Germany, the Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Albania before those countries' conversions from Communist states in the early 1990s are the following List of Eastern Bloc defectors.

Defections violating emigration restrictions of Eastern Bloc countries
Defector Profession/Prominence Birthplace Defection Notes
George Balanchine choreographer Russia 1924 Defected during tour of Germany to Weimar Republic
Boris Bazhanov Politburo Secretary Russia 1928 Defected to France via Iran and India
Georges Agabekov OGPU Turkmenistan 1930 Defected in France; led the manhunt for Bazhanov before defecting
Grigol Robakidze author Georgia 1930 Defected to Germany; primarily known for his exotic prose and anti-Soviet émigré activities.
George Gamow physicist Ukraine 1933 First tried to kayak across the Black Sea; defected in Brussels, Belgium; later discovered alpha decay via quantum tunneling
Ignace Reiss NKVD Russia 1937 Former head of Soviet intelligence services; assassinated by NKVD
Walter Krivitsky NKVD Poland 1937 Defected in Paris, France after assassination of Reiss; Apparent 1941 suicide in the U.S. may have been an NKVD assassination
Genrikh Lyushkov NKVD Russia 1938 Crossed the border into Manchukuo with secret documents; family arrested and sent to Gulag; several died
Alexander Orlov NKVD Belarus 1938 Fled while stationed in Spain to avoid execution in the Great Purge
Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov author Russia 1942 Sent to infiltrate anti-Soviet Chechens, he joined them instead
Svetlana Alliluyeva Joseph Stalin's daughter Russia 1967 She defected to the United States via New Delhi, India. She denounced her father Joseph Stalin's regime, though she softened her criticism of him in the 1980s.[12]
G. M. Dimitrov politician Bulgaria 1945 He was saved from execution by U.S. ambassador. He later founded anti-communist organizations.
Peter Fechter bricklayer East Germany 1962 He was shot trying to escape over the Berlin Wall and bled to death in the Wall's "death strip" over the course of an hour with no medical aid.
Igor Gouzenko GRU Russia 1945 He defected in Ottawa, Canada and helped uncover Communist spy rings.
Anatoli Granovsky MGB Russia 1946 He defected in Stockholm, Sweden and wrote an autobiography.
Milan Švec Czechoslovak Embassy, Washington DC Czechoslovakia 1985 He defected in Washington DC, where he was Minister-Counselor. He later became a commentator on East-West relations.
Ladislav Bittman Czech state security, disinformation Czechoslovakia 1969 Became a professor at Boston University, lecturing on disinformation and propaganda.
Vladimir Petrov diplomat Russia 1954 Defected on a mission in Australia. Started the Petrov Affair
Arkady Shevchenko UN Undersecretary General Russia 1978 Spied for the U.S. for three years before defection. His wife in Moscow died two months after his defection purportedly of suicide.
Walter Polovchak underage defector Ukraine 1980 Fled from his parents when they were about to return to then-Soviet-republic. Granted political asylum as a naturalized U.S. citizen upon turning 18 on October 3, 1985. Was subject of lengthy political cause célèbre during those five years.
Romuald Spasowski ambassador Poland 1981 Defected when Martial Law was declared in 1981.
Valdo Randpere Deputy minister of Justice Estonia 1984 Defected via Kotka, Finland to Sweden. Fled a Soviet crackdown on Estonian nationalism.
Viktor Belenko pilot Russia 1976 Flew a MiG-25 from Chuguyevka, Primorsky Krai to Hakodate Hokkaido, Japan.
Jan Šejna General Czechoslovakia 1968 Fled after Prague Spring to the United States.
Conrad Schumann soldier East Germany 1961 Photographed jumping the Berlin Wall during construction.
József Mindszenty Cardinal Hungary 1956 Fled to U.S. Embassy in Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Later moved to Austria.
Ryszard Kukliński Polish colonel Poland 1981 Spied for USA for 10 years after 1970 massacre of Polish workers. Defected to United States. Sentenced to death in absentia. Later died of a stroke. Sentence was annulled in 1998 by the Polish Supreme Court.
Vladimir Pasechnik bioweapons engineer Russia 1989 Defected in Paris, France; to warn the west about USSR bioweapons.
Franciszek Jarecki pilot Poland 1953 Flew MiG-15 from Słupsk, Poland to Rønne Airport on Danish island of Bornholm
Jonas Pleškys submarine tender captain Lithuania 1961 Sailed vessel to Sweden; sentenced to death; CIA hid him from USSR
Aleksandr Zuyev pilot Russia 1989 Flew Mikoyan MiG-29 to Trabzon, Turkey
Nicholas Shadrin naval officer Russia 1959 Defected in Sweden; later allegedly killed by the KGB
Simonas "Simas" Kudirka Soviet seaman Lithuania 1970 Leaped from a Soviet ship to a United States Coast Guard ship
Józef Światło UB Poland 1953 Defected on a mission in East Berlin; He revealed it in broadcasts on Radio Free Europe internal struggle in the Communist Party (PZPR) and the true face of the Security Office (UB). The result of his escape was the liquidation of the Ministry of Security (MBP).
Michael Goleniewski SB MSW Poland 1961 Defected in West Germany; sentenced to death after defection; then worked for the CIA. Before he fled he spied for the CIA under the cover name Sniper, but the CIA did not know his identity until his escape
Konstantin Volkov NKVD Russia 1945 Deputy head of the NKVD in Istanbul, Turkey ; contacted the British Istanbul consulate about defection, was arrested by the Soviets and disappeared forever (possibly executed)
Nikolai Khokhlov KGB Russia 1953 Refused to assassinate George Okolovich; defected in West Germany and KGB attempted to assassinate him in 1957
Ion Mihai Pacepa Securitate Romania 1978 He was a two-star Romanian Securitate general and personal advisor to Nicolae Ceauşescu. He defected in the American Embassy in Bonn, West Germany. He was sentenced to death twice in absentia with a $2 million bounty. Carlos the Jackal was sent to assassinate him.
Reino Häyhänen KGB Russia 1957 He defected in Paris after spending several years spying undercover in the west.
Christo Javacheff environmentalist artist Bulgaria 1957 He escaped from Czechoslovakia to Austria.
Matei Pavel Haiducu Securitate Romania 1978 He defected to France in 1981 on an industrial espionage mission. He was sentenced to death in absentia.
Anatoliy Golitsyn KGB Ukraine 1961 He defected to the United States via Helsinki, Finland and Haparanda, Sweden with his wife and daughter when he was stationed in Helsinki. He made sensational claims after his defection.
Oleg Lyalin KGB Russia 1971 He defected in London, UK after being arrested in London; exposed dozens of KGB agents in London
Stanislav Levchenko KGB Russia 1979 Defected during a mission in Tokyo, Japan  ; detailed KGB's Japanese spy network
Vladimir Kuzichkin KGB Russia 1982 Defected to a British intelligence Tehran station and then to the United Kingdom
Vitaly Yurchenko KGB Russia 1985 Defected in Rome, Italy; exposed two KGB/CIA double agents, Ronald Pelton and Edward Lee Howard; curiously ended up back with the KGB
Oleg Gordievsky KGB Russia 1985 Defected to UK via Finland; became MI6 double agent after the Soviet 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia; sentenced to death in absentia
Ladislav Pataki sports scientist Czechoslovakia 1985 Defected to US via Rome, Italy; "the highest-ranking Soviet-bloc sports scientist ever to defect to the West"
Yuri Krotkov KGB Georgia 1963 Defected while an undercover agent in London, UK; later became a novelist
Yuri Nosenko KGB Ukraine 1964 Defected in Washington, D.C., United States; for years, the CIA thought he might be a double agent
Evdokia Petrova KGB Russia 1954 Undercover KGB agent who was the wife of Vladimir Petrov; defected in Australia
Bohdan Stashynsky KGB Poland 1961 Defected in West Berlin; assassin of Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera before defection
Mikhail Baryshnikov ballet Latvia 1974 Defected during tour in Toronto, Canada
Vyacheslav Polozov opera Ukraine 1986 Defected during the Madama Butterfly singing competition in Tokyo, Japan
Wolfgang Leonhard historian Austria 1949 Exiled GermanAustrian communist who returned to Germany after World War II; defected via Yugoslavia; traveled to West Germany
Andrzej Panufnik composer Poland 1954 Slipped Polish secret police in night time taxi chase in London, UK
Maxim Shostakovich composer Russia 1981 Defected on tour in West Germany with his son[13]
Ivan Diviš poet Czechoslovakia 1967 Fled after Prague Spring to West Germany and worked for Radio Free Europe
Vladimir Oravsky writer Czechoslovakia 1968 Fled after Prague Spring to Sweden
Sulamith Messerer ballet Russia 1980 sister's husband purged; defected to Britain at 72 to coach ballet
Imre Lakatos philosopher of science Hungary 1956 Fled to Vienna, Austria and later to Britain after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956
Georgi Markov playwright Bulgaria 1969 Fled to Italy after ban on plays; assassinated in London in 1978
Nora Kovach ballet Hungary 1953 Escaped with husband Istvan Rabovsky to West Berlin on an East Berlin tour
Istvan Rabovsky ballet Hungary 1953 Escaped with wife Nora Kovach to West Berlin on an East Berlin tour
Peter Deriabin KGB agent Austria 1954 KGB Major and personnel officer who contacted U.S. intelligence in Vienna and was exfiltrated through the "Mozart Express" military train. He worked with CIA for years afterwards.
Victor Kravchenko engineer Ukraine 1944 Soviet engineer, witnessed horrors of Holodomor; defected when serving in the Soviet Purchasing Agency in Washington DC in the United States
Yuri Bregel scholar Russia 1981 Defected to the United States; helped invigorate Central Eurasian Studies in the west
Youri Egorov pianist Russia 1976 Fled during a tour in Rome, Italy
Natalia Makarova ballet Russia 1970 Defected on ballet tour in London, UK; later won a Tony Award[14]
Alexander Elder author Russia 1974 Jumped from a Soviet ship off the Ivory Coast on which he was working as a doctor; later traveled to the United States
Alexander Godunov ballet Russia 1979 Defected on ballet tour in New York in JFK International Airport in New York City; later became an actor, including playing one of the terrorists in Die Hard[15]
Cornel Chiriac journalist Romania 1969 Defected to Austria with fake invitation
Vakhtang Jordania conductor Georgia 1983 Defected in a tour with Victoria Mullova via Kuusamo, Finland and Haparanda Sweden to the United States
Viktoria Mullova violinist Russia 1983 Defected in a tour with Vakhtang Jordania via Kuusamo, Finland and Haparanda, Sweden to the United States
Jan Čep writer Czechoslovakia 1948 Defected to France; Poet friend who stayed behind jailed for 13 years for "anti-socialist thinking"
Anatoly Kuznetsov author Ukraine 1968 Defected after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia while doing research in London to the United Kingdom
Vladimir Tismăneanu political scientist Romania 1981 Defected in Spain on a permitted trip with his mother to visit site of father's battles
Mircea Florian musician Romania 1986 Defected in the United States on permitted visit for a performance
Gega Kobakhidze actor Georgia 1983 Hijacked Aeroflot Flight 6833; tried to defect to Turkey and was caught
Vladimir Rezun (Viktor Suvorov) GRU / author Russia 1978 GRU military intelligence, defecting to Britain while working under UN cover in Switzerland
Ioan P. Culianu philosopher Romania 1972 Defected during lectures in Italy; suspected that Securitate later assassinated him
Petr Beckmann physicist Czechoslovakia 1963 Defected as visiting professor to University of Colorado in the United States; became a proponent of libertarianism and nuclear energy
Paul Barbă Neagră film director Romania 1964 Defected in Tours, France
Rudolf Nureyev ballet Russia 1961 Defected on tour in Paris
Nicholas Poppe linguist China 1943 Fled with the retreating Germans to Germany, hid from the Soviets after World War II for four years; emigrated to the United States
Leonid Kozlov ballet Soviet Union 1979 Defected with wife Valentina Kozlov during their company's tour in Los Angeles, United States
Valentina Kozlova ballet Soviet Union 1979 Defected with husband Leonid Kozlov during their company's tour in Los Angeles, United States
Valentin Poénaru mathematician Romania 1961 Defected at conference in Stockholm, Sweden; known for low-dimensional topology
Vitali Vitaliev author Ukraine 1990 Became a regular on BBC TV in the United Kingdom
Viktor Korchnoi chess Russia 1976 First Soviet Grandmaster to defect; defected following a tournament in Amsterdam, Netherlands[16]
Lev Alburt chess Russia 1979 Another Soviet Grandmaster to defect, to the USA, where he won the U.S. Chess Championship three times
Romanas Arlauskas chess Lithuania 1944 Escaped west with others just before Red Army re-invaded; traveled to Australia
Fedir Bohatyrchuk chess Ukraine 1944 Escaped during World War II after participating in anti-Stalin organization; defected in Prague, Czechoslovakia
Leho Laurine chess Estonia 1944 Fled before Red Army re-invasion of Estonia; defected to Sweden via Germany
Bela Berger chess Hungary 1956 Defected during Hungarian Revolution of 1956 to Australia
Jerzy Lewi chess Poland 1969 Defected during tournament in Athens, Greece; traveled to Sweden
Géza Füster chess Hungarian 1945 Defected through East Berlin with friend Pal Benko who was caught and jailed three years
Igor Vasilyevich Ivanov chess Russia 1980 Ran from KGB agents when his plane made an emergency stop in Gander, Canada
Peter Šťastný hockey Czechoslovakia 1980 Defected with his wife and brother Anton during European Cup tournament in Innsbruck, Austria
Anton Šťastný hockey Czechoslovakia 1980 Defected with brother Peter during European Cup tournament in Innsbruck, Austria
Sergei Fedorov hockey Russia 1990 Defected in Seattle, United States during Goodwill Games
Alexander Mogilny hockey Russia 1989 Defected after World Championships in Sweden
Petr Nedvěd hockey Czechoslovakia 1989 Defected during a midget hockey tournament in Calgary, Canada
Jörg Berger football East Germany 1979 Used a match in Yugoslavia to flee to West Germany
Miodrag Belodedici football Romania 1988 Defected in Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Martina Navratilova tennis Czechoslovakia 1975 Defected at the 1975 US Open in the United States
Miloš Forman film director and actor Czechoslovakia 1968 Defected to USA when the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded the country to end the Prague Spring; known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Tamás Buday sprint canoe Hungary 1987 Defected to Canada
Alena Vrzáňová figure skater Czechoslovakia 1950 Defected during 1950 World Championships in London, UK
Mihai Apostol sprint canoe Romania 1989 -
Nadia Comăneci gymnast Romania 1989 Defected weeks before the revolution to Austria
Mihai Suba chess Romania 1988 Defected to UK during the 1988 Lloyds Bank chess tournament in London.
Zoltán Czibor football Hungary 1956 Fled to Spain during Hungarian Revolution of 1956
Ágnes Keleti artistic gymnast Hungary 1956 Defected in Melbourne, Australia during 1956 Summer Olympics
Lutz Eigendorf football East Germany 1979 Fled during a match in West Germany. He was assassinated by Stasi as a traffic accident in 1983.
Kalinikos Kreanga table tennis Romania 1989 Defected in Luxembourg during youth table tennis championship
András Törő flatwater canoe Hungary 1964 Defected in Tokyo, Japan during the 1964 Summer Olympics
Falko Götz football East Germany 1983 Fled before a match in Yugoslavia; traveled to West Germany
Naim Süleymanoğlu weightlifter Bulgaria 1986 Defected during World Cup final in Melbourne, Australia; traveled to Turkey
Ferenc Puskás football Hungary 1956 Defected during the 1956–57 European Cup in Madrid, Spain
Sándor Kocsis football Hungary 1956 Defected during the 1956–57 European Cup in Madrid, Spain, and then to Switzerland
Jenő Kalmár football Hungary 1956 Defected during the 1956–57 European Cup in Madrid, Spain, and then to Switzerland
Ludmila Belousova figure skater Russia 1979 Defected in Switzerland
Vladas Česiūnas sprint canoe Lithuania 1979 Defected in World Championships in the Frankfurt Airport in West Germany; recaptured by the KGB[17]
Norbert Nachtweih football East Germany 1976 Fled with Jürgen Pahl in an under-21 match in Turkey; traveled to West Germany
Oleg Protopopov figure skater Russia 1979 Defected with Ludmila Belousova on tour in Switzerland
Jürgen Pahl football East Germany 1976 Fled with Norbert Nachtweih in an under-21 match in Turkey; traveled to West Germany
Gorsha Sur ice dancing Russia 1990 Defected to the United States while on tour with a Soviet troupe
Ernst Degner Motorcycle racer East Germany 1961 Defected after the Berlin Wall was erected once he knew that his wife and two children had already escaped from East to West Germany in the trunk of a car . Degner defected (with knowledge of the loop scavenging technique developed for MZ) by driving his car from the Swedish GP to Denmark and West Germany.[18]
Václav Nedomanský hockey Czechoslovakia 1974 Defected during a vacation in Switzerland
Yuri Bezmenov KGB propaganda agent Russia 1970 Left India, his KGB station, disguised as a hippie, went to Greece, was debriefed in the United States, but refused to stay in the US because of KGB infiltration of the CIA, and was granted asylum in Canada
Dariusz Janczewski Track and Field Poland 1984 Left a hotel room in the middle of the night while in Turin, Italy at an international track meet. Spent several months in a refugee camp in Italy before relocating to the United States.
Stanislav Kurilov Oceanographer USSR 1974 While on a "cruise to nowhere" in the open ocean, jumped into the sea and swam to the Philippine coast, many kilometers away
Paul Nevai Mathematician Hungary 1974 After defecting in Paris, he immigrated to the USA in 1976
Mihai Smighelschi Air Force cadet Romania 1987 Flew his Aero L-39ZA Albatross jet trainer aircraft from Buzau, Romania to near Kirklareli, Turkey, where he landed on a dirt road[19][20]
Notable Defections after 1991 regarding Eastern Bloc intelligence
Profession/Prominence Birthplace Defection Notes
Kanatjan Alibekov bioweapons chief Kazakhstan 1992 Former director of Biopreparat; defected to United States
Stanislav Lunev GRU Russia 1992 Defected to the United States; revealed KGB weapons caches in the west
Vasili Mitrokhin KGB Russia 1992 Defected in Riga, Latvia to British Embassy; Archivist who was shocked by records of Soviet political repression
Sergei Tretyakov SVR; Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia) Russia 2000 Defected in New York City to C.I.A.; Deputy Rezident Station Chief in New York City; Revealed many political and intelligence secrets from the New Russia; sudden death in Sarasota County, Florida on June 13, 2010; his death has been associated with allegations of foul play

See also


  1. Dowty 1989, p. 69
  2. Dowty 1989, p. 114
  3. Eastern bloc, The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.
  4. Hirsch, Donald, Joseph F. Kett, James S. Trefil, The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy',' Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002, ISBN 0-618-22647-8, page 230
  5. G.S. Trice, Specialist/4, Dossier Number H8047134, U.S. Army Investigative Records Repository, 7 March 1974: contains such CIC records of Nesti Josifi Kopali as IDENTIFICATION F-2542 (11 Jan 1952), D-296877 (1 Nov 1951), File II-5092 (14 June 1951 - 18 Sept 1951). While these documents are the only known paperwork available to the public, various government officials active during the early 1950s acknowledged knowing about Kopali and some of his zany behavior.
  6. Dowty 1989, p. 121
  7. Mynz 1995, p. 2.2.1
  8. Senate Chancellery, Governing Mayor of Berlin, The construction of the Berlin Wall states "Between 1945 and 1961, around 3.6 million people left the Soviet zone and East Berlin"
  9. Pearson 1998, p. 75
  10. Turnock 1997, p. 19
  11. Krasnov 1985, p. 2
  12. "Sovietologist Leopold Labedz, who met her in 1968, first noticed it in 1981: "She was getting soft on papochka." Once she had acknowledged Stalin's personal responsibility for the death of millions; now she called him a prisoner of Communist ideology. Her new book contained hardly any criticism of her father. She probably felt she had betrayed him. "My father would have shot me for what I have done", she often said during her final year in Britain." Patricia Blake, Time, 28 January 1985
  13. Russians Call Defection Of Shostakovich 'Personal'. The New York Times, April 28, 1981
  14. Natalia Makarova Dances Again With the Kirov. The New York Times, August 8, 1988
  15. Turmoil on the Tarmac. TIME Magazine, September 3, 1979
  16. Raymond Keene. Viktor Korchnoi: Fearless Competitor of World Chess.
  17. KGB Kidnapping. TIME Magazine, October 22, 1979
  18. TEAM SUZUKI by Ray Battersby (2008) Parker House Publishing ISBN 0-9796891-5-5 / 0-9796891-5-5


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