When Russian leader Josef Stalin died, on March 5 in 1953, a letter was found in his office that had been written by Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito.
The two leaders were bitter enemies, after Tito had used World War II as an opportunity to spark a revolution and lead Yugoslavia to independence from Soviet influence.
The real issues of the dispute come out only covertly. What appears to be at stake is the demand by the Russian bureaucracy in Moscow for complete and absolute control over the satellite states, even to the smallest detail of internal policy, and Tito’s hostility and opposition to complete subjugation to Russia.
A combination of pride, fear and jealousy had spurred Stalin to attempt to have Tito killed – and no less than 22 assassination attempts had been made in the years after the war.
Tito’s letter in Stalin’s office read: ‘Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.’
A Slovenian historian suggest that Stalin was poisoned rather than suffering a fatal stroke – and points the finger of suspicion directly at Tito.
In his book Tito In Tovarisi, historian Joze Pirjavec puts forward mainly circumstantial evidence to support his poisoning theory. Crucially, however, he has used former Yugoslav archives that have been overlooked by many historians.
He suggests that Tito knew Stalin would not stop until an assassination attempt was eventually successful. In something that sounds too far fetched even for a James Bond novel, one of the attempts against Tito involved a jewellery box that would emit a toxic nerve gas when opened.
Mr Pirjavec suggests that Tito’s letter was not an idle threat but a statement of fact – one which he carried through.
Ironically enough, Stalin’s death – either by natural causes or at the hands of a Tito assassin – was largely his own doing.
He ruled with such ruthlessness – executing anyone who stood in his way or defied his orders – that even his own security team was effectively paralyzed with fear.
On the day he suffered the stroke that would eventually kill him, he had given strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed.
People who saw him on the day of his stroke, including his successor Nikita Khrushchev, said that he was showing no signs of ill health.
After a meeting that lasted until 4am, Stalin went to bed and sent his guards off duty. They were under strict orders not to disturb him until they were called for.
But, as the sun set that day, there had been no word from the Russian leader.
Reports say that guards saw a light come on in Stalin’s room at 6.30pm but there was still no word from the boss, and they were too frightened to break his orders.
Eventually, at 10 pm, the guards decided that they had to enter the room. They found Stalin lying on the floor, unable to move or speak. His watch had broken and stopped at 6.30pm, suggesting a fall.
For some reason, the guards did not immediately contact medical help.
They first called the minister of state security, and then the secret police.
They may have been following protocol but Mr Pirjavec agrees with other historians who claim the delay was intentional – using the time to cover-up or remove evidence.
It did not help that Stalin had imprisoned many of his best physicians during an earlier purge.
When medical help finally did arrive, the leader was paralysed and vomiting blood. He survived in agony for several days, ultimately choking to death in his bed on the night of March 5.
The official cause of death was ruled as a cerebral hemorrhage most probably brought about by a stroke. Despite the fact that Stalin had suffered minor strokes before, Mr Pirjavec claims the then 74-year-old had been poisoned with potassium cyanide.
Mr Pirjevec makes the point that Stalin referred to Tito’s threatening letter within hours of the stroke.
In 1955, the man who succeeded Stalin visited Belgrade, apologized to Tito for Stalin’s assassination attempts, and congratulated him on his survival. “You did well in protecting yourself. You had good guards and good informants who informed you about everything Stalin was planning for you.” Tito smiled and said: “Stalin knew that I was very well guarded. After many warnings that it was enough sending assassins, he evidently got a bit scared.” The person who took over from Stalin was, of course, Khrushchev—the man to gain the most.
Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Soviet Union, also died from a stroke in 1924.
But a year before his death Stalin – then the General Secretary of the Communist Party – wrote a top-secret memo to the Politburo claiming that Lenin had asked him to administer cyanide to end his suffering.
In a remarkably squeamish note – considering Stalin went on to be the 20th century’s stand-out mass murderer, with a penchant for poisoning – he wrote: ‘I do not have the strength to carry out Ilyich’s request and I have to decline this mission, however humane and necessary it might be, and I therefore report this to the members of the Politburo.’
Many historians point to the fact that Lenin had changed his mind about Stalin and had actually advocated for his removal before his death.
It is also significant to note that toxicology tests – even the rudimentary ones of the day, which would have detected common poisons – were not carried out during Lenin’s autopsy.
If Tito brought about Stalin’s death in the same manner as Stalin brought about Lenin’s, then a certain degree of poetic justice is at play, one which dances behind an espionage plot worthy of James Bond.
Source Credits: Daily Mail, Marxists, Daily Beast