Kukin, Konstantin [Constantine] Mikhailovich (1897-1979)

One of the supervising officers of Soviet foreign intelligence, who was posted in the United States as a “legal” operative from 1937 to 1940 and served as the USSR’s “legal” resident in London from 1943 to 1947.

Kukin was born on November 23, 1897 to a working class family in Kursk. There is no information about his education or employment before the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917. He served in the Red Army (RKKA) in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. In November 1918, he organized armed resistance groups to fight against the German forces in Byelorussia. In September 1919, he became an assistant regiment commander of the 12th Army. In 1920, as chairman of the revolutionary committee (“Revcom”) in the Crimean town of Bakhchisarai, he organized the fight against local gangsters. For his “courage and heroism in combat” Kukin was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. 1 After the end of the Civil War, he continued to serve in command positions in the Red Army until his discharge in 1926.

From 1926 to 1929, Kukin worked in Moscow as a Communist Party functionary; one of his jobs was as a member of the Moscow City Communist Party Committee. In 1929, he was admitted to the Institute of Red Professorship [Institut krasnoi professury], an institute of higher learning that trained social science lecturers and research scholars, as well as cadres, for the Central Communist Party and government agencies. In addition to his regular studies, Kukin went through intensive English language instruction. After his graduation in 1931, he became an operative of the OGPU foreign intelligence department (the INO), and in the fall of that year he was posted in London as a “legal” operative under the cover of a department head at Arcos Ltd. – the All-Russian Cooperative Society Ltd. From the 1920s until World War II, Arcos was a network of Soviet foreign commercial organizations based in London. Kukin’s work received rave reviews at Moscow Center, and he became a Center operative after his return to Moscow in late 1932.

In 1934 (according to his NKID personnel file; 1933 according to the biography posted on the website of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Kukin was posted in Harbin, Manchukuo as a “legal” operative under the cover of a department head of the Soviet Trade Mission. (Manchukuo was a puppet state set up by the Empire of Japan in Manchuria, China in 1932.) The main task of the OGPU’s Harbin station in that period was to inform on the activities of the Japanese in the country, and particularly the Japanese Kwantung Army, which was stationed in Manchukuo. Reportedly, Kukin managed to acquire substantive contacts in the circles that were of interest to Soviet intelligence. According to some Russian accounts, he was shifted in 1935 to a special-missions group named the SGON – the Special Group for Special Purposes. (This group is commonly known as “Yasha’s group” or “Uncle Yasha’s group,” after its head, Yakov Serebryansky) These accounts report that in 1935 Kukin was part of a special group that was involved in sabotage missions in China. The story seems to have originated with a book, Different Days of Secret War and Diplomacy, 1941, attributed to the Soviet spymaster, Pavel Sudoplatov, 2 which was published a few years after Sudoplatov’s death by his son, Anatoly Sudoplatov. 3 But the Sudoplatov-sourced account does not agree with the available documentation. According to Kukin’s SVR bio, he had to return to Moscow in 1934 “due to a serious illness.” This is circumstantially confirmed by the reference cited above from Kukin’s NKID personnel file, according to which Kukin worked in Moscow as an instructor at the Political Office of the People’s Commissariat of Roads from 1935 to 1937. 4 This means that he was discharged from foreign intelligence service in 1935 and remained out of it until 1937.

In mid-1937, Kukin was reinstated as an operative of NKVD foreign intelligence and was soon posted in Washington, D.C. as a “legal” operative. Sudoplatov’s post mortem account in The Different Days of the Secret War and Diplomacy, 1941 erroneously describes Kukin as an “illegal,” 5, but the documented evidence of his “legal” status is unequivocal. According to Russian diplomatic files, “beginning in August 1937 Kukin was posted at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. as an attaché,” and in July 1938 he was promoted “to a vacant position as Second Secretary.” 6

In late 1940, Kukin returned to Moscow, where he became an operational officer at foreign intelligence headquarters. In 1943, he was posted in London as a “legal” resident under the cover of a position as Counselor at the Soviet Embassy. There, he became a substitute for Anatoly Gorsky, who became the “legal” resident in Washington, D.C. the next year. From Gorsky, Kukin took over running the famous Cambridge Five group of spies. According to his SVR biography, “Kukin not only managed to maintain the high level achieved earlier, but was able to obtain important documentary materials on all the issues of interest to the Center. Under his supervision, the residency continuously informed the Soviet political leadership on the policy of England, the USA and other nations, as well as on their plans for post-war reconstruction in Europe.” 7

Following the reorganization of the Soviet intelligence agencies in 1947, Kukin briefly became the resident of the newly established “umbrella” structure, The Committee of Information (KI) – and was simultaneously appointed Soviet Ambassador to Great Britain. Later in 1947, he returned to Moscow to continue his intelligence service at Moscow headquarters, as head of the First (Anglo-American) Department of MGB foreign intelligence, which was then part of the KI. He retired in 1952 and died in Moscow in 1979.

  1. Konstantin Kukin’s biography posted at the SVR official Web site, http://svr.gov.ru/history/ku.html; a reference from Kukin’s NKID personnel file in Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs V.P. Potemkin to A.A. Andreev, CC VCP (b), July 17, 1938, Fund 05 (The Office of Litvinov), description 18, P. 138, folder 3 (“Letters of V.P. Potemkin, the First Deputy of the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs to the CC VCP (b), January 4 to December 31, 1938”), p. 167, AVP RF. Kukin’s biographical details referenced from his personnel file No-5023.
  2. Pavel Sudoplatov. Raznye dni tainoi voiny i diplomatii, 1941, Moskva: OLMA PRESS, 2001, s. 149. (Pavel Sudoplatov, Different Days of Secret War and Diplomacy, 1941, Moscow: OLMA PRESS, 2001, p. 149.)
  3. Anatoly Sudoplatov was the co-author of a book of his father’s memoirs, Special Tasks, The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness –A Soviet Spymaster, by Pavel Sudoplatov and Anatoli Sudoplatov, with Jerrold L. and Leona P. Schecter, published in the West by Little, Brown and Company in 1994.
  4. http://svr.gov.ru/history/ku.html; V.P. Potemkin to A.A. Andreev, July 17, 1938, Op. cit.
  5. Pavel Sudoplatov, Different Days of Secret War and Diplomacy, 1941, Op. cit., p. 149.
  6. V.P. Potemkin to A.A. Andreev, July 17, 1938, Op. cit.
  7. http://svr.gov.ru/history/ku.html