In April 1937, the Politburo of the Central Committee made the decision to cancel Tukhachevsky's trip to London to attend the coronation of the British King, George VI. This decision was based upon a special report delivered by Yezhov on 21 April 1937 to Stalin, Molotov and Voroshilov.
Here is the text of his report:
"We have received information today from foreign sources, which are highly reliable, that German intelligence agencies are planning to commit a terrorist act against comrade Tukhachevsky, while he attends the coronation festivities in London. Four individuals (3 German and 1 Polish) are conducting the preparations for the attack. The source does not rule out the possibility that the terrorist act is being planned for the purpose of provoking an international incident. Since we lack the means of ensuring comrade Tukhachevsky's full safety throughout his trip to London, I consider it expedient that we cancel comrade Tukhachevsky's visit. I ask for consideration in this matter."
No material of any sort was discovered in the KGB USSR archives which could point to such a terrorist act against Tukhachevsky. Thus, the special report in question was a falsification.
Responding to the special report, Stalin wrote:
"To the members of the Politiburo. How sad it is that we must agree with comrade Yezhov's suggestion. Comrade Voroshilov will have to offer another candidate. I. Stalin."
A copy of the NKVD "special report" has Voroshilov's inscription on it "Show to M. N. 23.IV.37 KV." The same copy is signed by M. N. Tukhachevsky, confirming that he was familiarized with the document. On 22 April 1937, the Politburo passed the following motion:
"1. Taking into consideration the NKVD report, that comrade Tukhachevsky faces serious danger from a German-Polish terrorist group during his trip to London to attend the coronation ceremonies, and that this group has the task of murdering comrade Tukhachevsky, that it be considered expedient to cancel the Central Committee's decision to send comrade Tukhachevsky to London. 2. That the suggestion made by the People's Commissar of Defense to send comrade Orlov to London to attend the coronation ceremonies as representative of the USSR military be accepted."
Having shown manifest "concern" for Tukhachevsky's safety, the organs of the NKVD, under the leadership and direct participation of Yezhov, began to actively collect at the same time a variety of provocational testimony against him and other military commanders, extracted from a number of arrested individuals. Thus, between 22-25 April 1937, false testimony was obtained from the former Chief of the Special Section of the NKVD Gai and the former Deputy People's Commissar for Internal Affairs USSR Prokofiev, both of whom had been arrested by this time, alleging criminal connections between Tukhachevsky, Uberovich, Kork, Shaposhnikov, Eideman and others with Yagoda.
Attempts to obtain evidence against the military officials from Yagoda at the same time, however, were not successful. Being questioned on 26 April 1937, Yagoda testified: "I never had any personal connections with military officials, in the strict meaning of the term. I was acquainted with them on an official level, and made no attempt to recruit any of them."
Drastic measures were also taken by NKVD officials in order to obtain evidence against Tukhachevsky from the arrested NKVD Deputy Section Chief, Volovich. Volovich's interrogation had major significance. An example of its importance can be deduced from the records Yezhov made in his pesonal notebook. Judging by the character of individual entries made by Yezhov, he was receiving instructions from Stalin. In one such notebook, the following entry was made: "Volovich. spec. interrogation."
On 27 April 1937, NKVD officials managed to obtain testimony from Volovich averring Tukhachevsky's participation in a plot, for which Tukhachevsky guaranteed the support of military forces.
It is apparent from the materials concerning the case against Gai, Prokofiev and Volovich that their testimony was of a general, vague and contradictory nature. In addition, the given testimony was obtained illegally by means of deception, provocation and physical coercion. None of the evidence would be authenticated in court, since Prokofiev, Gai and Volovich were executed "by special decree" in 1937 without a hearing.
Having discovered the illegal methods employed in obtaining information from Gai and Prokofiev, the Deputy Chief of the 2nd Section of the NKVD, Zalpeter, wrote on 10 February 1939 while under arrest: "The former Chief of the 2nd Section, Nikolaev, entrusted Zhupakhin... to interrogate Prokofiev. On Nikolaev's instructions, he essentially composed Prokofiev's testimony without interrogating him... In my presence, Zhupakhin brought this "testimony" to Nikolaev's office, saying, "take a look how it turned out." Nikolaev then amended Prokofiev's "testimony," giving it a "more" believable character...
Goaded by me and Nikolaev to offer up preliminary testimony, Gai remained defiant. Nikolaev then declared: "You must do as Prokofiev has done." Yezhov dropped in and repeated the same thing, declaring "You must provide evidence," to which Prokofiev responded, drawing himself up in military fashion, "rightly so." Then and there, Gai started to produce testimony..
"...during one of our days off from interrogating prisoners at the Lefortovo prison, Nikolaev told me: "Well, let's go smash Gai's face in." After being summoned for interrogation, Gai was questioned by Evgenev, who - not allowing him the chance to respond - struck him...."
"During Gai's interrogations relating to the Yagoda case, I questioned Gai, sometimes jointly with Nikolaev, regarding the primary facts of the case. I looked upon this as an "official task" sanctioned by Stalin himself, which Yezhov had led me to believe, when he instructed the investigators at the initial operations briefing... Gai began to provide testimony about espionage activities after Yezhov had promised him leniency, declaring: "You will be spared."
As is obvious from Zalpeter's testimony, which he gave in 1939, prior to his arrest he had expressed his own opinion regarding the reasons for the provocational activities being conducted by the organs of the NKVD:
"The mass repression of leading officials in the People's Commissariats (and the People's Commissars as well) is explained by the fact, that Stalin means to govern the country by dictatorial methods, deciding everything alone, not suffering opposition, not considering the opinions of others and placing under mass arrest those individuals who have contradicted (criticized) him. These people were not counter-revolutionaries at all. The Trotskyist document, the so-called "Testament of Lenin," aptly described Stalin in this regard, referring to his intolerance and single-mindedness.... As matters unfold, party officials, who have been arrested without cause, eventually slander themselves and others, offering up false testimony. Essentially, their fate has been predetermined prior to their arrest, while still in the Central Committee. Knowing this and considering their situation hopeless, the specter of their absolute isolation springs up before them, since - for them - the political life is the only thing that makes life worth living. In the final analysis, everything depends upon the investigator, who generally employs physically coercive methods of interrogation. Under such conditions, these people allow themselves to agree to any sort of testimony. And upon the declaration of the investigators, that they have confessed to their crimes, they inscribe their last words on these documents."
The former NKVD official, Surovitzkikh, related the circumstances of Volovich's interrogation in April-May, 1937. Explaining the case to the Party Control Commission of the Central Committee of the CPSU on December 20, 1961, Surovitzkikh, member of the CPSU from 1929, stated:
"Everything that took place within the organs of the NKVD at that time, from the beginning until the end, constituted a planned and thought out provocation... Volovich's demeanour during the investigation attested to the fact that he was ready to offer the required testimony... Volovich was questioned by Yezhov, and the vast majority of the names suggested to Volovich by either Yartsev or myself, were set forth according to Yezhov's instructions... The structure of the trestimony was also determined by the investigation. And so it was with Volovich's testimony against Tukhachevsky, which attested to the participation of the latter in a plot preparing for a military seziure of power. Yartsev and I "obtained" detailed information from Volovich against Tukhachevasky as a participant in the conspiracy, preparing the army in order to ensure a military coup. In other words, we obtained corroboration for the existence of such a military force and secured for Yezhov the necessary "solidity and seriousness" of the plot."
Despite the lack of any reliable evidence regarding the existence of conspirators among the top echelons of the military, Stalin took the opportunity, while dining in Voroshilov's apartment after the May Day parade of 1937, and in the presence of many military officials, to rail against alleged enemies in the military. This declaration of Stalin's was recalled by the Chief of the Intelligence Department of the RKKA, Uritsky, in a letter he wrote to Voroshilov, on 27 September 1937:
"...after the parade on 1 May 1937," Uritsky wrote, "the leader remarked, in your apartment, that enemies will be unmasked, and that their party will be ground into dust, and then he raised a toast to those who, remaining loyal, have a deserved place at the splendid table celebrating the October Revolution."
Realizing the motives of Stalin and Molotov in their talk of unmasking enemies within the military, Yezhov placed great hopes in obtaining testimony concerning the criminal activity of Tukhachevsky, Yakir and others. This was to be accomplished through interrogation of the corps commanders, Primakov and Putna, who had been affiliated with Trotskyists in the past and had been arrested in August 1936, as well as from the former Chief of the Air-Defense Department of the RKKA, Corps Commander Medvedev, who had been expelled from the party in 1934 for squandering government funds. Pursuant to this, in one of Yezhov's notebooks, the following entry was found: "1. Seize: Primakov regarding Yakir. 2. Medvedev regarding Yakir."
Arrested on 6 May 1937, Medvedev confessed during questioning that he was a participant of a Trotskyist military organization, which intended to launch a military coup in the country. On 10 May 1937, he signed the minutes of the interrogation, in which he stated, that he had learned from the corps commanders Vasilenko and Putna, that Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Putna, Turovsk and Primakov were the leaders of the Trotskyist military organization.
Vasilenko and Smolin, however, failed to corroborate Medvedev's testimony, despite being arrested and severely beaten. Medvedev, himself, had also been subjected to methods of physical coercion and subsequently recanted his testimony when at trial.
One of the individuals who took part in the interrogation of Medvedev was the Deputy Chief of Administration of the Moscow Region NKVD, Radzivilovsky, who was later arrested. Interrogated on 16 April 1939, regarding Yezhov's activities in the creation of the RKKA military conspiracy case, he testified:
"Yezhov entrusted me with the task of immediately pursuing the interrogation of the prisoner Medvedev, the former chief of the PVO RKKA, and obtaining testimony from him implicating the widest possible circle of participants in a military conspiracy within the RKKA. To obtain this, Yezhov gave me direct instructions to employ physical coercion, without being reticent in the methods chosen. Yezhov especially emphasized the fact, that in interrogating Medvedev I was to secure from him the names of the largest possible number of military officials. Upon interrogation Medvedev, I established that three or four years prior to his arrest he had been sacked from the RKKA and was managing the construction of some sort of hospital when he was arrested. Medevedev denied participation in any anti-Soviet activity and generally no longer maintained any contacts with military circles within the RKKA since he left the army. However, in carrying out Yezhov and Frinovsky's directives, I obtained testimony from Medvedev regarding the existence of a military conspiracy and about his active participation within it. In subsequent interrogations, and especially after a severe beating he received at the hands of Frinovsky in Yezhov's presence, he began naming a siginifant number of military officials. During the course of the case, I observed and knew that the contacts Medevedev was describing were fictitious, and he continually related me, and later, to Yezhov and Frinovsky as well, that his testimony consisted of lies and did not correspond to reality. Despite this, however, Yezhov presented the interrogation records to the TsK... Medvedev was arrested on Yezhov's orders... with the intention of fanning the flames of a military conspiracy within the RKKA."
The former superintendent of the Special Section of the PVO [Petrograd Military District], Sadov, N. A. (member of the KPSS since 1931), testified in Moscow that he saw the investigator, Reiter, beat the prisoner Medvedev severely with a rubber truncheon in Lefortovo prison.
Corps Commander Primakov, arrected on 14 August 1936, was kept confined in Lefortovo prison for a period of 9 months, without making any confession. In Stalin's archive are found several statements from Primakov protesting his innocence. However, on 8 May 1937, Primakov, finally succumbing to the ordeal, addressed the following statement to Yezhov from Lefortovo prison:
"Over a period of nine months, I refused to speak to the investigation regarding the matter of the Trostskyist counter-revolutionary organization, and this denial reached such a degree of insolence that I refused to admit my guilt even before the TsK and comrade Stalin in every possible way. Comrade Stalin was right when he stated, "Primakov is a coward, refusing to speak about this matter. This is cowardice." It was, indeed, cowardice and shameful lying deception on my part. I, now, declare that, having returned from Japan in 1930, I entered into contact with Dreitser and Shmidt, and, through Dreitser and Putna, with Mrachkovsky and began engaging in Trotskyist activity. I am now providing the investigation with a complete account of this activity."
Giving way to the demands of the investigation and the wishes of Stalin, Primakov embarked upon the path of deception and self-incrimination. During interrogation on 14 May 1937, Primakov already started naming his "accomplices," stating, in reference to Yakir, that:
"The Trotskyist organization considered Yakir to be the most suited for the post of People's Commissar, in place of Voroshilov... They considered Yakir to be the strictest example of a conspiratorial Trotskyist and acknowledged that Yakir was in personal contact with Trotsky. It was also assumed that he was operating independently, carry out certain secret tasks."
That same day, Yezhov sent Primakov's record of interrogation to Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov and Kaganovich. In a cover letter, Yezhov wrote:
"I am sending Primakov's first interrogation record from May 14 of this year. I report: Garkavy, Vasilenko, Turovsky, Zyuk, Gavryushenko, Vezhelev, Savitsky, Smolin, Lapin and Ol'shansky have been arrested. I request permission to arrest: 1) Chanyshev (Commander, 1st Tatar division; 2) Koshelev (Chieff of Staff, 13th Corps); 3) Kel'bein (Commander, 75th division); 4) Kazansky (former Commander, 5th Rifle division); 5) Butyrsky (former Chief of Staff, KVO [Kiev Military District] ); 6) Klysheiko (Commander, Aviation Brigade); 7) Klochko (former Military Attache to Turkey); 8) Zenek (Head of the Lenigrad Tank School)."
Continuing to "work over" Primakov, on 21 May 1937 the NKVD was able to obtain from him "a hand-written statement" that the conspiracy was being led by Tukhachevsky, who was in contact with Trotsky. During this same round of questioning, Primakov named 40 prominent military officials as participants in the Trotskyist military conspiracy.
Corps Commander Putna was also subjected to a painful night of questioning. On 14 May 1937, he was transferred from the prison infirmary of Butyrki prison to the Lefortovo prison, where he was interrogated the entire night. As a result, Putna provided testimony against Tukhachevsky and 9 other prominent military officials as participants of the anti-Soviet Trotskyist military organization.
On 16 May 1937, Yezhov sent Putna's record of interrogation to Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov and Kaganovich. In the accompanying cover letter, Yezhov wrote:
"I am sending the record of V. K. Putna 's interrogation from May 15 of this year. Putna has testified, that in 1935 he personally delivered a letter from Trotsky to Tukhachevsky, containing a direct proposal that Tukhachevsky take part in the Trostskyist conspiracy. After familiarizing himself with this letter, Tukhachevsky instructed Putna to convey to Trotsky that he could count on him. As participants in the anti-Soviet Trotskyist military organization Putna has named Primakov, Kuz'michev, Shmidt and Lapin, who have have been arrested; Zenek - former Head of the Leningrad Military Tank School; Klochko - former USSR Military Attache to Turkey, Gordozensky - former Head of the Supply Administration, Primorski Group, Kornel' - former official in the INO [Foreign Section] OGPU and Adamovich - former Chairman of the SNK [Council of People's Commissars] BSSR [Belorussian Socialist Republic]."
On 3 June 1955, Budarev, member of the KPSS and a former official from the Special Section of the NKVD USSR, testified that Putna and Primakov were subjected to physical coercion during interrogation:
"When Primakov had still failed to provide evidence, Deputy Section Chief Karelin and Section Chief Avseevich instructed me and other officials to sit beside him. This was done in order to prevent him from sleeping and compel him to give evidence about his participation in a Trotskyist organization. At this time, he was allowed only 2-3 hours of sleep per day in the office where he was being interrogated and to where he was brought food. Thus, he was not left alone... During the time they were being interrogated, it was known that Putna and Primakov were providing testimony regarding participation in the conspiracy after having been severely beaten in Lefortovo prison."
On 10 December 1962, the former Deputy Minister of State Security USSR, member of the KPSS since 1932, Selivansky, reported to the TsK KPSS:
"In April 1937, the case concening Putna and Primakov was transferred to Avseevich. Through the use of btrutal and cruel methods of interrogation, Avseevich forced Primakov and Putna to provide testimony against Tukhachevsky, Yakir and Fel'dman. This testimony served as the basis for the arrest of Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Fel'dman and other prominent military officals in May 1937. Avseevich's work served as an example for dealing with prisoners and set the standard for other investigators operating within the Special Section. Thus emerged the conspiracy within the Soviet army. After this, the mass arrest of high-ranking military officials, members of the TsK KPSS and prominent individuals within the party and the government commenced on Stalin and Yezhov's orders."
The former NKVD USSR official, Avseevich, who conducted the interrogations of Putna and Primakov, explained to the TsK KPSS:
"...many officials, including myself, happened to be working in the Special Section of the NKVD in the years 1937-1938, that is, during the period when the mass arrest of military officials occurred, and took part in the interrogation and beatings of the prisoners... During the interrogations, questions and responses were formulated by Leplevsky (Chief of the Special Section NKVD USSR), and although the names entered into the minutes were those mentioned by Primakov, the actual significance of the conversations and meetings mentioned by him were exagerrated and raised up to the level of conspiratorial activity. Thus, the testimony provided by Primakov against a large number of prominent military officials was fabricated."
"The prisoners, Primakov and Putna, were morally broken as a result of lengthy periods in solitary confinement and meager prison rations.... they were dressed in threadbare cotton uniforms instead of their regular clothes, went about in sandals instead of boots, and their hair grew long and beards went unshaven for a lengthy period... transferred to Lefortovo prison and finally summoned by Yezhov, they were broken and ready to provide evidence."
In the middle of May 1937, several prominent military officials were subjected to night time arrest. They included the Head of the Frunze Military Academy, Army Commander 2nd Rank Kork, and the Deputy Commander of the Moscow Military District, Corps Commander Fel'dman.
During his first round of interrogations, Kork, who had been arrested on the night of 15 May 1937, denied participation in anti-Soviet activities. On 16 May, however, his resistance was broken and Kork signed two statements which were addressed to Yezhov. Kork reported, that he had been drawn into a Rightist organization by Yenukidze and that the Rightist organization also included a Trotskyist military group consisting of Putna, Primakov and Turovsky. Tukhachevsky was also connected with the Rightist military organization. Kork wrote further, that the main goal of the group was to carry out a military coup in the Kremlin. and that the organization was headed by a coup committee consisting of Kork, Tukhachevsky and Putna.
Corps Commander Fel'dman was arrected on 15 May 1937. In his staement, he requested to be apprised of the materials possessed by the investigation and expressed his readiness to provide testimony regarding these materials. He wrote to investigator Ushakov:
"Both you and the Head of the Special Section, comrade Leplevsky, with whom I have also spoken, presented charges involving participation in an anti-Soviet Trotskyist military organization and suggested that I embark upon the path of sincere repentence. I requested that I be apprised of the facts indiciating my participation in the above mentioned organization. After this, it will be easier for me to understand the issue at hand."
The testimony, which Fel'dman started to provide concerning a military conspiracy, was extremely contradictory. Thus, while under interrogation on 16 May 1937, he testified that he had been drawn into the Trotskyist military organization by Primakov in 1934. Three days later, Fel'dman changed his testimony, asserting that the Trotskyist military organization was headed by Tukhachevsky, who had also drawn in Primakov in the beginning of 1932.
In presenting this record of interrogation to Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov and Kaganovich on 20 May 1937, Yezhov wrote:
"I am forwarding the interrogation record of Fel'dman, B. M., former Head of the Administration of Supply for the RKKA, from 19 May of this year. Fel'dman has testified that was a participant of a Trotskyist military conspiracy and was recruited by Tukhachevsky, M. N. at the beginning of 1932. Fel'dman has named the following participants of the conspiracy: Chief of Staff of the Transcaucasus Military District Savitsky, Deputy Commander of the Pri.VO [Volga Military District] Kutyakov, former Commander of the VTsIKh [All-Russian Central Executive Commitee] School Yegorov, Commander of the Engineering Academy RKKA Smolin, former Assistant Commander of the Engineering Administration Maksimov and the former Deputy Commander of Armoured Car and Tank Administration Ol'shansky have been arrested. I request discussion regarding the issue of arresting the remaining participants of the conspiracy, who have been named by Fel'dman."
Among the "remaining participants of the conspiracy," who had still not been arrested at that time, were Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Eideman and other commanders. Their arrest would took place in the last week or so of May 1937. In Fel'dman's interrogation records from May 19, 21 and 23, more than 40 commanders and political officers of the army were named as participants in the Trotskyist military organization.
Investigator Ushakov (Ushamirsky), having shown himself to be a grand master of blackmail and provocation, succeded in establishing a trusting relationship with Fel'dman. By alleviating his terms of confinement, Ushakov won Fel'dman over and persuaded him to provide testimony.
It is in this context, that he following note written by Fel'dman is of interest:
"To the Assistant Chief of the 5th Section GUGB NKVD Union of the SSR, comrade Ushakov. Zinovy Markovich! I have written out the beginning and ending of the my statement according to my own discretion. I trust you will summon me and provide personal instructions. It will be a simple matter to do a revision... I thank you for your care and solicitude. On the 29th, I received biscuits, apples and cigarettes and today I received cigarettes as well. They do not tell me from where or from whom these have arrived, but I know who sent them... Fel'dman. 31.V.37."
In the statement, which Fel'dman referred to in his note, he reaffirmed his willingness to provide the investgators with any testimony:
"I request, comrade Ushakov, that I be summoned personally to You. I would like either You or comrade Leplevsky to convey to the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Union of the SSR, comrade Yezhov, that I am prepared to stand before whomever you wish and relate everything I know about the military conspiracy, if this is required by the Red Army. I am ready to walk through Purgatory, as you have described my investigative confrontation with Tukhachevsky. I am prepared to show all of you, who have extended me a helping hand and pulled me from the filthy waters, that you have not been mistaken when you determined during my first interrogation, that Fel'dman is not an inveterate, implacable enemy, but rather a man who stands ready to work and labour at repentence and in assitance with the investigation in smashing the conspiracy. I ask that my last appeal also be conveyed to comrade Voroshilov. B. Fel'dman. 31.V.1937."
In 1938, the investigator, Ushakov, was himself arrested. Commenting on the interrogatin of Fel'dman, Ushakov hand wrote the following testimony: