Attempted assassination of Leonid Brezhnev

An assassination attempt was made upon Leonid Brezhnev on 22 January 1969,[1] when a deserter from the Soviet Army, Viktor Ilyin, fired shots at a motorcade carrying the Soviet leader through Moscow. Though Brezhnev was unhurt, the shots killed a driver and lightly injured several celebrated cosmonauts of the Soviet space program who were present in the motorcade. Brezhnev's attacker was captured and a news blackout on the event was maintained by the Soviet government for years thereafter.

Would-be assassin

Viktor Ivanovich Ilyin (Russian: Виктор Иванович Ильин) was born in Leningrad in 1947. After his graduation from a technical college, he was inducted into the Soviet Army in 1968[2] at the rank of lieutenant.[3] Ilyin was said to have been resentful of his forced conscription[4] and distressed by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.[2]

On 21 January 1969, Ilyin stole two standard-issue Makarov handguns and deserted his army unit.[5] He went back to his family in Leningrad where he stole his brother-in-law's authentic police uniform. Ilyin then left on an unannounced, solitary journey to Moscow.[4]

Cosmonauts' motorcade

The Soviet Union 1969 CPA 3724 sheet of 1 (Vladimir Shatalov, Boris Volynov, Aleksei Yeliseyev and Yevgeny Khrunov)
The four cosmonauts of Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5

Dressed like a policeman, Ilyin moved unimpeded through a large crowd waiting at the Kremlin. They were clustered at the Borovitsky Gate, where a special motorcade was expected to pass: it would be bearing the successful cosmonauts of Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 to an important official ceremony.

The spaceflight crewmembers—Vladimir Shatalov, Boris Volynov, Yevgeny Khrunov, and Aleksei Yeliseyev—had returned only a week earlier from their historic manned-ship-to-manned-ship docking mission in space, the first of its kind. Arriving at Vnukovo Airport, they were being driven with Brezhnev and Soviet head of state Nikolai Podgorny to their commemorative celebration inside the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses. The four honorees rode in an open convertible at the front of the line, waving to spectators while a line of closed limousines trailed behind them.[1]

Assassination attempt

At 2:15 p.m. on 22 January 1969, as the motorcade passed through the gate, Ilyin drew pistols in both hands. Ignoring the waving cosmonauts, he opened fire on the second car in the line: he later admitted that he only assumed it carried Brezhnev. Unbeknownst to him, this ZiL limousine was filled only with other cosmonauts from earlier missions: Alexei Leonov, Valentina Tereshkova, Georgy Beregovoy, and Andrian Nikolayev.[1]

Ilyin's shots struck the limousine fourteen times,[4] killing the driver,[2] Ilya Zharkov, before a guard ran Ilyin down with his motorcycle.[5] The other occupants of the car were unscathed or suffered only superficial wounds.[2] After Ilyin was arrested, the cosmonauts' ceremony took place as planned, just slightly delayed.[4]


Leonid Brezhnev Portrait (1)
Leonid Brezhnev, the target of the assassination attempt

Ilyin underwent a lengthy interrogation led by KGB chief and future Soviet leader Yuri Andropov.[5] He was pronounced insane and sent to Kazan Psychiatric Hospital[3] where he was kept in solitary confinement until 1988.[6]

According to Russian sources, Ilyin was released in 1990 and moved to Saint Petersburg.[7] The bullet-holed limousine has been preserved and is occasionally put on public exhibition.[8]


News was scant and slow to emerge. An official Soviet press statement was made two days after the shooting, but did not say if the shooter was a man or a woman.[1] However, even without official confirmation, the event was seen as an assassination attempt on Brezhnev.[1][9][10]

Years later, the cosmonaut Leonov recounted how Brezhnev confided to him after the incident: "Those bullets were not meant for you, Alexei. They were meant for me, and for that I apologize."[4] But until the dissolution of the Soviet Union the KGB released little information about the shooting. The entire incident was "so effectively hushed up"[4] that it was sometimes cited by Western observers as an example of Soviet secrecy.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Gunman Attacks Car in Kremlin, 2 Wounded". The New York Times. 24 January 1969. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Zubok, Vladislav M. (2009). Zhivago's Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 297. ISBN 0-674-03344-2.
  3. ^ a b Albats, Yevgenia (1995). KGB: State Within a State. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 191. ISBN 1-85043-995-8.
  4. ^ a b c d e f French, Francis; Burgess, Colin (2007). In the Shadow of the Moon: A Challenging Journey to Tranquility, 1965–1969. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 277–278. ISBN 0-8032-1128-7.
  5. ^ a b c "Eurasian Secret Services Daily Review". Axis Information and Analysis (AIA). 25 January 2009. Archived from the original on 1 February 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  6. ^ "Gunman Fires Twice Close to Gorbachev at a Moscow Parade". The New York Times. 8 November 1990. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  7. ^ "Shots at the Borovitsky Gate" (in Russian). Pereplet. 1999. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  8. ^ "That Old Car Smell: Soviet motor nostalgia grows among Russian elite". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 20 June 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  9. ^ a b "Kremlin: Then There Were Shots". The New York Times. 26 January 1969. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  10. ^ "Brezhnev Seen as Target in Cosmonaut Shooting". The Morning Herald. Hagerstown, MD. AP. 24 January 1969. Retrieved 2 December 2016 – via open access
Alexei Leonov

Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov (Russian: Алексе́й Архи́пович Лео́нов, IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksʲej ɐˈrxʲipəvʲɪtɕ lʲɪˈonəf]; born 30 May 1934) is a retired Soviet/Russian cosmonaut, Air Force Major general, writer and artist. On 18 March 1965, he became the first human to conduct extravehicular activity (EVA), exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for a 12-minute spacewalk.

In July 1975, Leonov commanded the Soyuz capsule in the Soyuz-Apollo mission, which docked in space for two days with an American Apollo capsule.

Leonid Brezhnev

Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev (; Russian: Леони́д Ильи́ч Бре́жнев, IPA: [lʲɪɐˈnʲid ɪˈlʲjidʑ ˈbrʲeʐnʲɪf] (listen); Ukrainian: Леоні́д Іллі́ч Бре́жнєв, 19 December 1906 (O.S. 6 December) – 10 November 1982) was a Soviet politician. The fifth leader of the Soviet Union, he was General Secretary of the Central Committee of the governing Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1964 until his death in 1982. Ideologically, he was a Marxist-Leninist. He presided over the Soviet's greatest involvement in world affairs, including détente with the West. But he also increasingly confronted the Sino-Soviet split, which divided and weakened communist parties across the world. His invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and détente, and damaged Moscow's reputation around the globe. In domestic affairs, he presided over a steady decline in the economy, marked by corruption, inefficiency, and rapidly widening weakness in technological advances, especially computers. Nevertheless he was a force for political stability inside the Kremlin, maintaining his power despite his rapidly declining health after 1975.

Brezhnev was born to a Russian worker's family in Kamenskoye in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine). After graduating from the Kamenskoye Metallurgical Technicum, he became a metallurgical engineer in the iron and steel industry. After the October Revolution led to the formation of a one-party state led by the Communist Party, Brezhnev joined the party's youth league, Komsomol, in 1923, and then became an active party member by 1929. With the invasion by Germany in 1941, he Join the Army and held increasingly important political posts as the Communist Party closely monitored the generals. After the war he rose steadily in the top ranks of the party, and became a protégé of Joseph Stalin. In 1952 Brezhnev was promoted to the Central Committee and in 1957 to full member of the Politburo. In 1964, he ousted Nikita Khrushchev and took over as First Secretary of the CPSU, the most powerful position in the Kremlin.

As the leader of the Soviet Union, Brezhnev's conservatism and carefulness to reach decisions through consensus within the Politburo resulted in sustained political stability within the party and the country. On the world stage, Brezhnev pushed hard for the adoption of détente to relax tensions and foster economic cooperation between the two Cold War superpowers. Brezhnev's health rapidly deteriorated after 1975 and he increasingly withdrew from international affairs. Détente finally collapsed after Brezhnev ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The widespread response of boycotting the Moscow Olympics of 1980 was a bitter humiliation.

Brezhnev's hostility towards reform. and tolerance of corruption ushered in a period of socioeconomic decline known as the Brezhnev Stagnation. His regime presided over widespread military interventionism and a massive arms buildup that ultimately grew to comprise 12.5% of the nation's GNP. In terms of technology, especially computers, the Soviet Union fell further and further behind the West. After years of declining health, Brezhnev died on 10 November 1982 and was quickly succeeded as General Secretary by Yuri Andropov. Upon coming to power in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the Brezhnev regime's pervasive inefficiency and inflexibility before overseeing steps to liberalize the Soviet Union.

Brezhnev's eighteen-year term as General Secretary was second only to that of Joseph Stalin in duration. During Brezhnev's rule, the global influence of the Soviet Union grew dramatically, in part because of the expansion of its military during this time. His tenure as leader was also marked by the beginning of an era of economic and social stagnation in the Soviet Union.

Viktor Ilyin

Viktor Ivanovich Ilyin (Russian: Ви́ктор Ива́нович Ильи́н; born 26 December 1947) is a Soviet Army deserter who, at the rank of second lieutenant, attempted to assassinate the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev on 22 January 1969 in Moscow.

Events (1964–1982)
Events (1982–1985)
Politburo members
National economy
Brezhnev's family

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