Chugunov, Constantine Alexeevich (1916-1991)

Constantine Alexeevitch Chugunov

A well-known Russian translator of American and British authors who was an officer of the NKVDMGB foreign intelligence from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.

Chugunov was born on November 17, 1916 into a worker’s family in Simbirsk on the Volga River. (The city was later renamed Ulyanovsk, after the real name of Vladimir Lenin, who was born there). His father had finished parochial school and was an expert in both mathematics and calligraphy. The family lost three elder sons in an attempt to swim across the Volga River, and took great care of Kostya (Constantine), the surviving youngest son, whom the mother often kept locked up at home. In the long hours of solitude, the boy read everything in sight and dreamed of becoming a writer. After finishing secondary school, Kostya enrolled in a factory vocational school to become a turner [lathe operator] and then worked at a factory from 1931 to 1934. In 1934, a visiting commission from the Moscow Agricultural Academy came to Ulyanovsk, and Chugunov enrolled in its preparatory courses. That same year, he was admitted to the technical zoology department, to learn how to raise cattle in a village.

The Stalinist purges of the late 1930s had left a huge number of vacancies in many fields, including at the OGPU. Young cadres not “burdened” with deep knowledge of Bolshevik history and the underlying causes of the purges were in great demand. On the eve of 1938, Chugunov received a summons from the military commissariat, requesting that he come “with his belongings” to one of the Moscow railway stations.” In January 1938, he became a student of the special NKVD intelligence school, known as ShON, where he began learning English. In January 1939, Chugunov graduated from ShON with the rank of Lieutenant of State Security (GB). By that time, he was a candidate for membership in the VCP (b).

In April 1938, Chugunov went on his first overseas mission, which was initially supposed to last only two months 1 – probably as an undercover security officer at the Soviet pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York. But with the shortage of intelligence officers in the United States, he was later transferred to the NKVD foreign intelligence station in New York, under the cover of Soviet Consulate-General, and was part of the station’s political intelligence effort. Between February 1944 and February 1945, he appears under the cover name of “Shah” in 20 Soviet intelligence cables between New York and Moscow which were partially decrypted in the course of the Venona operation. “Shah” was identified by Venona translators as “Konstantin Alexeevich Shabanov.” Judging from the notation in the “Index of KGB Covernames: New York-Moscow Communications,” this identification was made in some contemporary “directory,” with the name “Shabanov” probably serving as the man’s diplomatic alias. 2

Chugunov was described by one of his colleagues at the New York station as a “serious, businesslike, careful and diligent” young man, who “had a perfect command of English, was well-versed in the situation in the United States, the problems of its domestic and foreign policy.” The memos and other papers he wrote were so “comprehensive in their content and accurate in their form” that the resident signed them almost without any editing. 3

Chugunov returned to Moscow with the same rank, Lieutenant of the GB, with which he had been sent to the United States in 1939 (at that time, intelligence officers were not promoted while on overseas missions) and continued to serve at NKGB and later MGB foreign intelligence. In Moscow, Chugunov completed his education (which had been interrupted in 1938) as a non-resident student; in 1948, he graduated from the Agricultural Academy, and in 1953, from the Higher Diplomatic School. During this time, he also managed to master French and Spanish, in addition to English. He also wrote his thesis for the Russian Ph. D. equivalent, the degree of Candidate of Sciences. Chugunov was rapidly promoted and, in the five years of his service at Moscow headquarters, became a section head. In the same period, he wrote an instruction manual on the methods of conducting political intelligence and was awarded two Orders of the Badge of Honor and medals “For Courage,” “For Merit in Combat” and “For Victory over Germany.” 4

According to Chugunov’s existing Russian profiles, he was fired in 1953 in the purge of state security agencies which followed the arrest that year of the Soviet State Security chief, Lavrentii Beria. However, in the files of the Soviet Society for Cultural Contacts (VOKS) from the early 1950s, we see Constantine Chugunov as the head of its Department of the USA. 5 He was probably working under the cover of the VOKS at that time. In any case, in 1953 he was only 37 years old, and he was discharged without any retirement benefits. In 1958, after a few years as a VOKS official, Chugunov became Executive Secretary of the Foreign Commission of the Union of Soviet Writers. This job brought him into personal contact with many prominent Soviet writers and poets, since he was responsible for organizing their meetings with foreign writers both in the USSR and abroad.

Meanwhile, in the mid-1950s Chugunov began translating into Russian the works of Spanish and then English writers. His first translations of short stories were published in the popular literary journal, Foreign Literature (Inostrannaja literatura). In 1967, he became an assistant editor-in-chief of this journal, a position he would hold until 1990. The job turned out to be the dream of his life: searching for new literary works and authors unknown to Russian readers, and making contact with the foreign writers whom he had met during his time at the Foreign Commission of the Writers Union. Simultaneously, he continued his translation activity. In 1975, Chugunov was admitted to the Soviet Writers’ Union (translation section). He was awarded the honorary title of “Cultural Figure Emeritus of the RSFSR” for his “contribution to the cause of peace and the development of international cultural contacts.”

Chugunov’s most popular translations include John Updike’s Too Far to Go, John O’Hara’s The Lockwood Concern (1965), John Dos Passos’s The Big Money, Irwin Shaw’s Evening in Byzantium (1973) and John Fowles’s The Ebony Tower. Chugunov retired from Foreign Literature in 1990, at the age of 74, but continued his translation activity until his death on March 30, 1991. 6

  1. Constantine Chugunov’s bio on the website of the Russian literary agency, Agency FTM, Ltd., http://www.litagent.ru/cliinfoi.asp?KAvt=971
  2. The Index may be accessed from: http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/declass/venona/undated.shtml.
  3. Alexander Feklisov. Za okeanom i na ostrove. Zapiski razvedchika. Moskva: “DEM,” 1994, s. 54. (Alexander Feklisov, Across the Ocean and On the Island: Reminiscences of an Intelligence Officer, Moscow: “DEM,” 1994, pp. 58-59.
  4. Constantine Chugunov’s bio on the website of the Agency FTM, Ltd., Op. cit.
  5. C.A. Chugunov, Head, Department of the USA, VOKS to G.I. Olifirenko, November 26, 1951; Olifirenko to Chugunov, November 21, 1951. – Fund 5283 s.ch. (VOKS files, secret record keeping), description 22s, file 270, pp. 46-47, GA RF.
  6. Constantine Chugunov’s bio on the website of the Agency FTM, Ltd., Op. cit.