Soviet State Security in Estonia 1940-1991
The Soviet State Security organisation (Estonian SSR NKVD-NKGB-MGB-MVD-KGB) was established in Estonia, which was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union, by the directive issued on 29 August 1940 by the USSR NKVD People’s Commissar Lavrenti Beria. The Estonian SSR NKVD was formed out of the USSR NKVD operative group. It conformed to the USSR NKVD structure and thereafter complied with all subsequent structural changes in the Soviet State Security. The former Estonian ‘prison communist’ (a term for communists who were sentenced for the crimes against the Republic of Estonia) Boris Kumm was appointed People’s Commissar of the ESSR NKVD at the same time as his deputy, the state security officer Aleksei Shkurin, who was sent to Estonia from the Soviet Union, carried out the organisation’s actual operative management. The same persons continued to lead the Estonian SSR People’s Commissariat for State Security (NKGB), which was formed in March of 1941. The State Security’s main task became carrying out political arrests during the first year of the Soviet “Red” regime, culminating with the mass operation on 14–17 June 1941, in the course of which more than 10,000 people were sent to prison camps or into forced banishment. When war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union, the State Security participated together with the destruction battalions in suppressing revolts. When German forces occupied Estonia, most of the State Security’s personnel was successfully evacuated to Leningrad, where the People’s Commissariat was disbanded in November of 1941. A division that dealt with the territory of Estonia operated under the command of B. Kumm during the war in the central apparat of the USSR NKVD/NKGB.
The formation of USSR NKGB and NKVD operative groups for occupying Estonia began in the Soviet rear area in 1943. When Red Army units occupied the first pieces of Estonian territory at the start of 1944, the Estonian SSR NKGB was formed anew in March, and General B. Kumm was again appointed its head. After Estonia was recaptured, the largest mass arrest operation was launched in Estonia, in the course of which over 15,000 people were arrested. Starting in 1947, the liquidation of the armed resistance movement, the forest brothers (Estonian national partisans), became the main task of the Estonian SSR MGB (Ministry for State Security, 1946-1953). About 15,000 national partisans or so-called “Forest Brothers” operated in Estonia until the latter half of the 1950s. Around half of them were arrested and over 2,000 were killed as they were being arrested. The mass deportation to Siberia of the families of people who participated in the independence movement and of those who resisted collectivisation, the operation code named “Priboi” (“Breaker”), was carried out under the direction of the ESSR MGB in March of 1949. This was the largest mass deportation in Estonia, when over 20,000 people were taken away. The “Estonian Affair” was launched in Moscow in 1950, in the course of which the leaders of the administration of the Estonian SSR were replaced by persons from the Soviet Union. From that time onward, officers of non-Estonian origin also ran the Estonian SSR´s State Security (MGB, since 1954 KGB). The level of activity was raised in action to counter the independence movement at the start of the 1950s. The State Security operated brutally in this field, using whatever means it saw fit. The main courses of action in intelligence and counterintelligence also took shape at the start of the 1950s: in the field of intelligence primarily action against Estonian refugees in Sweden, and in the field of counterintelligence efforts to expose Estonians recruited by USA, UK and Swedish intelligence. While efforts were made to catch agents sent to Estonia by sea or air until the latter half of the 1950s, thereafter work in this field primarily took place by using tourism channels and official cultural and scientific contacts and cover organisations. In the 1960s – 1980s, Soviet State Security in Estonia primarily dealt with pursuing and suppressing persons who favoured independence, and also imprisoned them to a limited extent. The last, more extensive actions of this kind took place in 1983, but surveillance activity continued until the liquidation of the KGB. It was attempted to transform the KGB into a service of the Republic of Estonia, also by appointing officers of local origin to head the organisation in the spring of 1990. With the restoration of independence, the government of the independent Republic of Estonia ordered the liquidation of the Estonian SSR KGB on 26 August 1991, but the liquidation process continued until the end of that year. The staff of the Soviet State Security numbered up to 1,000 operatives throughout the period of its existence. Less than a quarter of them were Estonians.