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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Convicts Served as Beria's Guinea Pigs

Lavrenty Beria, the feared security chief for Josef Stalin, tested deadly poisons on human guinea pigs for use in Soviet assassination operations abroad, a Russian newspaper disclosed Tuesday.

The experiments were carried out by white-coated "doctors" on selected convicts already awaiting execution for crimes, the Kremlin newspaper Rossiiskiye Vesti said.

"A quick death was a good result, a slow one was bad," the newspaper quoted Vladimir Bobrenev, a former aide to the then-chief military procurator, as saying in an interview.

Beria, who headed the NKVD secret police -- one of the precursors of the Soviet KGB -- during the blackest years of Stalin's harsh rule, is said by Western and Russian historians to have been responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

He was executed himself in 1953 after losing a power struggle following Stalin's death in March of that year.

Bobrenev said Beria found a leading toxicologist called Veselovsky to conduct the experiments at a secret Moscow laboratory which also turned out poison-tipped pens and walking sticks.

"The professor agreed. But he could not have refused in any case -- he would have paid for refusal with his life," Bobrenev said.

He said the selected victims were summoned one by one into the laboratory as if for a casual medical check-up. "The 'doctor' in snow-white overalls would sympathetically ask the 'patient' how he felt, would take blood and urine samples, advise him on his health.

"They would casually suggest that he took some medicine or an injection -- for removing stress or muscular atrophy," he said. Death followed in minutes after a sudden attack of breathlessness and strong heart or muscular pains.

Bobrenev said Veselovsky and his assistants worked closely with the Soviet foreign intelligence service, which was then engaged in plotting"hits" against perceived enemies abroad, notably fugitive revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

He referred specifically to a high foreign intelligence official called Eitingon who "brought the 'patients' to the professor and watched the experiments to the end."

He said Veselovsky himself was arrested in 1951 as a Japanese spy, his laboratory closed and all documents relating to the experiments destroyed. He was released in the early 1960s and died suddenly after his release.

The newspaper added that the building which housed the laboratory "was recently given a face-lift and looks quite modern."