Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia
An Unauthorized History from the Kennedy Assassination 

Moscow Part 1

Copyright Peter Wronski 1991-2004

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DAY 1:  Friday, October 16

Leningradsky StationLee Harvey Oswald, age nineteen, arrived in Moscow on the morning of Friday, October 16, 1959 by train from Helsinki. He would have disembarked at the Leningradsky train station at Komsomolskaya Square which is located in the north-east quadrant of a ring road that encircles the center of Moscow. (The US embassy is located at the west compass point of the ring road.) He was met by an unidentified Intourist representative and driven to the Hotel Berlin, which at one time, had been called the Savoy. (Today it has reverted to the name Savoy.) The Hotel Berlin is located in the Kuznetsky Most area, overshadowed by two enormous buildings:  Detsky Mir ("Children's World"), a huge department store with a large selection of children's products on the main floor, and across the street, the Lubyianka complex -- the KGB Headquarters and former NKVD prison.

He was met in the hotel lobby by Rimma Semenova Shirakova, age twenty-two, a graduate in English and Arabic from the Moscow Foreign Languages Institute and an Intourist guide. She was assigned to him as his personal guide, a privilege of Deluxe class tourists. That morning, Oswald and Shirakova toured Moscow in an automobile, stopping occasionally at various points of interest. In 1993, Rimma recalled that Oswald was mostly silent and did not interrupt her tour talk. In general, she found him polite and nice. They returned to the hotel at noon so that Oswald could have his lunch. A tour of the Kremlin was scheduled for the afternoon.

When Oswald returned from lunch, he told Rimma that he did not want to go on a tour but that he wanted to talk. Rimma says they went outside and sat on a bench as it was a warm day. (Probably at Revolutionary Square, the nearest location to the hotel where there are benches.)



A. J. Weberman's Site ]

James Angeleton to FBI and Secret Service.   (1966):

     "Shirakova came to the attention of the Soviet [this word was deleted in the 1993 version of this report ] authorities when she befriended two British brothers who first visited the Soviet Union in 1960. She and a male guide joined the party with which the brothers were traveling at the Russian border. One of the brothers had pursued the friendship more than the other and claims that his relations with her have become affectionate but platonic. In fact, since he first met her, she was married and had a child. They have maintained a steady correspondence and he visits their home when he goes to the Soviet Union.
     "After the birth of their daughter in October 1963, Shirakova wrote and said that she had left Intourist and was employed as a teacher of English in a Moscow teacher's training college."

Another CIA document reported:

(Georges Albert Vandekerkhove, Belgian tour bus driver, born 1931). His first trip to USSR was May 28, 1961, and he made seven trips that season, each 14 days. He made only one trip in 1962, having switched to another firm. Unknown how many he made in 1963, but on the final one he was picked up for black marketing in Minsk. Let off easy after a few hours, but doesn't want to go back.
     "Claims Rima (lnu) was his only Soviet contact on all those trips. She regularly boarded bus at border and traveled with tour. Spoke English and good German. Purely platonic relationship with source, he says. During one trip, while in Moscow, she invited him to her home once. He was received nicely by her and her mother in their one room apartment. She asked why he didn't invite her to come see him in Belgium, to which he replied that there would be difficulties because of his being married."

A CIA report stated Shirakova had lent money to an unidentified tourist, who had run short of funds.

[ CIA 1295-482, 1302-478, 1110-407 ]

On September 8, 1966, CIA file 201-803,914was opened on Rimma Shirakova at the request of SB/CI/R. The signature of the requester and other information remained deleted. Shirakova visited England in June 1968. Her photograph was forwarded to FBI Headquarters by the American Embassy, London, Legal Attache, accompanied by a Secret report. [FBI 105-82555-5606]

In Britain, Rimma Shirakova was in touch with a CIA source: "Source and Shirakova visited Mme. Toussard's Wax Works Museum where Shirakova had a visible reaction when seeing OSWALD display. Although this visit was entirely innocent on one source's part (deleted) Shirakova's reaction indicated suspicion that this was a provocation."

Another document stated: "
(Deleted) states that their source is emphatic that at no time has any sort of intelligence approach or direct questioning taken place, either by Shirakova or any other Russian. (Deleted)
adds that it does look, however, if the SCD are building up quite a dossier on the man."

[FBI 105-82555-5606; KGB/SCD Connected Soviet Shirakova
Memo to Chief SB Div. 6.19.68;
CIA FOIA 525-126]

The CIA reported that "During (deleted) visit in March 1966 she mentioned Subject to the (deleted) analyst assigned to (deleted) activities. The latter has now written a summary from (deleted) files on Subject."

In Rimma's account as described by Norman Mailer in Oswald's Tale (pp.44-45) (he only paraphrases her), Oswald told her did not want to return to the US--there was no sense to it. His mother had remarried and was no longer interested in him. Nobody was interested in him. When he served as a Marine in the Far East he had seen much suffering and the US had fomented unjust wars in which he did not want to take part. She had the impression that he had seen combat. He had read that the Soviet people lived good, useful, and very peaceful lives and he had come here to see this for himself. Now he wanted to stay, he repeated. This was a proper country for his political views.

Rimma gives Oswald the nickname Alek  because Lee sounds too Chinese and confuses the Russians.  Oswald will adopt this name for the remainder of his stay in Russia.
By the end of that day, a letter requesting asylum and citizenship had been written, signed, sealed and delivered to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.  A copy of the letter was included in the 80 pages of Soviet documents released in 1999 to the USA by the Russian Federation.  The text of the letter reads:


Oct. 16, 1959

To the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

I Lee Harvey Oswald, request that I be granted citizenship in the Soviet Union. My visa began on Oct. 15, and will expire on Oct. 21. I must be granted asylum before this date, while I wait for the citizenship decision.

At present I am a citizen of the United States of America.

I want citizenship because; I am a communist and a worker. I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves. I am twenty years old, I have completed three years in the United States Marine Corps, I served with the occupation forces in Japan. I have seen American imperialism in all its forms.

I do not want to return to any country outside of the Soviet Union.

I am willing to give up my American citizenship and assume the responsibilities of a Soviet citizen.

I had saved my money which I earned as a private in the American military for two years, in order to come to Russia for the express purpose of seeking citizenship here. I do not have enough money left to live indefinitely here, or to return to any other country. I have no desire to return to any other country. I ask that my request be given quick consideration.


Lee H. Oswald


In a document he called his Historic DiaryOswald wrote: 

Oct. 16.
Arrive from Helsinki by train; am met by Intourist Representative and in car to hotel "Berlin". Register as "student"(5 day Luxury tourist. Ticket). Meet my Intourist guide Rima Shirokova I explain to her I wish to apply for Russian citizenship. She is flabbergasted, but agrees to help. She checks with her boss, main office Intourist, then helps me address a letter to Supreme Soviet asking for citizenship, meanwhile boss telephones passport & visa office and notifies them about me.

[CE 24]

NOTE:  In transcribing Oswald's diary and other writings, I did my best to correct his spelling and punctuation, mangled in the original by his dyslexic condition. I was moved to do so by Norman Mailer's appeal in Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery .  There Mailer wrote:

I was able to discover that our protagonist, cleansed of the grime of his misspellings and poor punctuation, was not only an intelligent man but had, doubtless, shielded himself from how his errors would affect others...  To show Oswald constantly in the toils of his dyslexia is to do no more than repeat society's low estimate of him, whereas to correct his spelling and punctuation brings us closer to his psychological reality...  Oswald had polemical gifts large enough to encourage a closer look at what he was saying.
Indeed, when one listens to audio recordings of Oswald (like for example, the Stuckey radio debate) one is immediately struck by his relatively intelligent and articulate command of spoken English. Stuckey himself, no fan of Oswald's, commented that Oswald carried the debate like a "young lawyer."  Oswald's ideas and his own self-estimation, therefore, earn a closer and more careful look than so far afforded him. However, those who need to refer to the diary in its original form can go to CE 24 in Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 16.

Again, according to Mailer's account, nobody asked Rimma Shirakova to help Oswald draft the letter.  Rimma claims she did it on her own initiative, believing that she was helping Oswald and that she believed it was perfectly natural for anyone to wish to live in the USSR. Moreover, Shirakova adds that when she reported her actions to her immediate supervisor, a female, she said, "What have you done? He came as a tourist. Let him be a tourist." (That supervisor might be Rosa Agafonova, the senior interpretor at Hotel Berlin.)

Oswald's diary contradicts Shirakova's assertion that she helped him all on her own, as does common sense. It is highly unlikely that any Intourist guide would get involved in a defection without first checking with her supervisors. Furthermore, Shirakova states that she was "shocked" by Oswald's statement and that in her Intourist training this scenario was never discussed. That would be more the reason to go to a higher authority one would think.  The speed and dispatch with which Oswald's request on a park bench on Friday afternoon was transformed into a formal letter delivered to the Supreme Soviet is remarkable--especially since we are talking about Friday afternoon when everybody wants to go home (or perhaps that is precisely the reason everything was so quickly handled.)

In his book, Passport to Assassination  KGB Colonel Oleg Nechiporenko claims to quote from a KGB document he had inspected in 1992. The document gives a slightly different version of events. It states that in talking to Shirakova, Oswald "expressed interest in where and to whom he should send the necessary application. Soon after, he informed her that he had sent his declaration to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and was awaiting its decision."

DAY TWO: Saturday, October 17

We have no precise information on what Lee Harvey Oswald did on Saturday, October 17, his second day in Moscow.  We know more today about what the Soviet authorities were doing.

On October 17, the Secretary of the Soviet Presidium, M.P. Georgadze, forwarded a translation of Oswald's letter to the KGB, referenced file "No. 435 October 17, 1959."  The enclosed translation contained an error. Whereas Oswald stated he served three years in the Marines, the Russian translator wrote that Oswald had "completed three years in a US naval academy." That alone must have left a negative impression on the KGB, as Oswald stated in the same letter that he served as a private. It was not a good sign that their subject after three years in a naval academy did not rise above the rank of private. The first impression must have been that either Oswald was a total foul-up, or a liar, or mentally unstable, or all three. And first impressions, as they say, are the most important.

In his diary Oswald writes:

Oct. 17.
Rima meets me for Intourist sightseeing, says we must continue with this although I am too nervous, she is "sure" I'll have an answer soon. Asks me about myself and my reasons for doing this. I explain I am a communist, etc. She is politely sympathetic, but uneasy now. She tries to be a friend to me. She feels sorry for me; I am something new. 

DAY THREE:  Sunday, October 18

It is Sunday and Oswald celebrates his twentieth birthday.  Rimma Shirakova gives him a Russian edition of Dostoevsky's The Idiot in which she writes, "Dear Lee, Great congratulations.  Let all your dreams come true!  18.X.1959 Moscow  Yours, Rimma." [CE 1399]  They visit Lenin's tomb in the Red Square. 

In 1993, Rimma states that on this day Oswald began tell her that he knew military secrets which he would willing to pass to the Soviets--he knew things about airplanes and devices and that he wants to meet with Soviet authorities.

DAY FOUR:  Monday, October 19

According to Rimma's recent accounts, Oswald repeats his offer of military secrets.  She reports his statements up the Intourist chain-of-command.  Rimma is surprised by the lack of response from authorities.  The Warren Report perhaps mistakenly picks this date as the day Oswald meets with Lev Setyayev    when it states that:

Lev Setyayev 1992On October 19 Oswald was probably interviewed in his hotel room by a man named Lev Setyayev, who said that he was a reporter for Radio Moscow seeking statements from American tourists about their impressions of Moscow, but who was probably also acting for the KGB. Two years later, Oswald told officials at the American Embassy that he had made a few routine comments to Setyayev of no political significance. The interview with Setyayev may, however, have been the occasion for an attempt by the KGB, in accordance with regular practice, to assess Oswald or even to elicit compromising statements from him; the interview was apparently never broadcast.
[WR  Appendix XIII Biography of Lee Harvey Oswald:  SOVIET UNION]

In two interviews that I conducted with Lev Setyayev in 1991 and 1992, he convinced me that he did not interview Oswald until after October 28 (at the earliest.) Setyayev distinctly remembered interviewing Oswald in the Metropole Hotel, not the Berlin.  The Warren Report  choice of October 19 is probably based on July 11, 1961 Foreign Service despatch which states that Oswald "recalled that he had been interviewed briefly in his room at the Metropole Hotel in Moscow on the third day after his arrival." 
[CE 935]  However, in view of recent NARA JFK document releases, I have come to suspect that Oswald's diary might in fact be correct and that Setyayev could have been deliberately misleading me during his 1992 interview.  Setyayev has subsequently refused to give further interviews.


DAY FIVE:  Tuesday, October 20 

On this day, Lee Harvey Oswald was interviewed by the KGB. 

According to KGB Colonel Oleg Nechiporenko's 1993 book, Passport to Assassination, Oswald was first debriefed by a senior professional intelligence officer from the KGB's First Chief Directorate (Intelligence), 15th Department (Tourists), on October 20, 1959. The debriefing was conducted by Abram Shaknazarov, a veteran of the Soviet secret police since the 1920's. For the purposes of the interview, Shaknazarov posed as an official from OVIR (the Visa and Registration Agency) which technically was the conduit for Oswald's request to remain in the USSR. The interview lasted for approximately ninety minutes.

If, as Nechiporenko claims, Skaknazarov was a veteran of the security forces since the 1920's, he must have been a remarkable personality.  He not only witnessed and participated in the Stalin purges of the 1930's, the Second World War, and the execution of his boss Beria following Stalin's death--but he also survived these events!  (According to historian Robert Conquest, 20,000 Soviet security officers were shot in the Stalin purges--the majority being "old generation" NKVD officers like Shaknazarov.)  How did as experienced a KGB officer as Shaknazarov miss the hints that Oswald was dropping in the previous days that he had something of value to offer the Soviets?  Or did Oswald backtrack on his offer during the interview?  As Shaknazarov is no doubt as dead as Oswald is today, we will probably never know until the KGB opens their file on the specifics of that interview

Is Nechiporenko to be believed?  Nechiporenko was a senior KGB officer who claims to have met (along with KGB officer Velery Kostikov) Oswald in Mexico City during his alleged visit to the Soviet Embassy there in 1963.  Nechiporenko in writing his book, claims to have had access in 1992-1993 to some KGB files on Oswald.  There is no doubt that Oleg Nechiporenko was a senior KGB officer in the highly sensitive Mexico KGB rezidentura.  His history was well known prior to his book although nobody had known he had been with Kostikov during Oswald's visit at the Soviet Embassy.  With the kind of seniority he enjoyed in the 1960's (he was expelled from Mexico in 1971) it is conceivable that by the 1990's he could have sufficient power in the KGB to be able to call on Oswald's files.  Some (although not specifically this one) Nechiporenko's claims are being confirmed by the files released in 1999 by Yeltsin.

In Mailer's interview with Shirakova, she falls silent on what she and Oswald did on that day. Shirakova only says that on Tuesday evening she was informed that Oswald would not be allowed to remain in the USSR.

In his diary, Oswald writes:

Oct. 20. Rimma in the afternoon says Intourist was notified by the pass & visa department [OVIR] that they want to see me; I am excited greatly by this news.

On the same date, the deputy chief of the KGB, Alexander Perepelitsyn, signs a form letter from the KGB to the Supreme Soviet Secretary, stating that in their opinion, granting Oswald citizenship is "inadvisable" or "pointless."  (netselesoobraznim)  This is a term that will appear in Oswald's Soviet files for some time to come, which could mean both, "inadvisable" or "pointless."  In interpreting the KGB's evaluation of Oswald as a potential defector, the ambiguity of the term will be problematic within the limited scope of the documents declassified in 1999.  If "unadvisable" it may suggest that the KGB fears that Oswald might be a security threat; if "pointless" it suggests that Oswald is considered worthless as an intelligence source.

The KGB form letter recommending that Oswald's citizenship request be denied. Declassified 1999.


DAY SIX Wednesday, October 21  [ NEXT PAGE ]   

Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia
An Unauthorized History from the Kennedy Assassination 

Moscow Part 1

Copyright Peter Wronski 1991-2004

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