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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

JFK Files May Yield Clues Into ... Yeltsin?




President Boris Yeltsin does not believe that Oswald acted alone.


This week, during a meeting in Cologne, Germany, Yeltsin handed U.S. President Bill Clinton some 80 documents from the Kremlin archives about the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and about the man fingered as the murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald.


The thought of secret KGB files surfacing on Oswald and the Kennedy murder may set a history buff's heart aflutter. But Russian scholars who assembled these latest documents say they will not reveal anything new about the assassination.


"They don't contain any new revelations. There's nothing new or sensational there," Vladimir Sokolov, a Foreign Ministry archivist who helped gather the material, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


Sokolov said the package given to Clinton on Sunday contained documents relating to Oswald's stay in the Soviet Union from 1959 to 1962, and about the Soviet reaction to the 1963 assassination.


Among the documents is Oswald's 1959 handwritten letter to "the Suprem [sic] Soviet of the USSR" requesting Soviet citizenship. A copy was published this week in the Kommersant newspaper.


"I want citizenship because I am a communist and a worker. I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves," Oswald wrote.


This is not the first time Yeltsin has opened the archives to reveal material on the Kennedy assassination, however. His 1994 memoirs include an appendix of KGB documents discussing Kennedy's murder. Yeltsin frankly admits the appendix contains no historic revelations - mostly they are a grab bag of KGB-collected rumor and speculation as to who killed the American president.


What is more interesting is Yeltsin's treatment of these materials. He cites with approval one KGB officer's report to the Soviet Central Committee that theorizes Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy of Texas oil magnates. The KGB officer, citing what amounts to gossip, says the Texans contracted with Jack Ruby - the man who killed Oswald soon after he was charged with Kennedy's murder - to arrange the assassination, with Oswald as participant and patsy.


That Big Texan business killed Kennedy is one of the many conspiracy theories with currency. Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy's vice president, was a Texas politician with Oval Office ambitions. Kennedy, meanwhile, had infuriated big oil with the Kennedy Act of 1962, which slapped new taxes on U.S. oil companies that would have cost them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.


Opinions as to who killed Kennedy vary wildly, of course. But Yeltsin seems to see the hand of Texas oil on the trigger. After quoting the KGB report, Yeltsin, apparently agreeing, continues in his own words:


"Oswald was the most suitable figure for executing a terrorist act against Kennedy because his past allowed for the organization of a widespread propaganda campaign accusing the Soviet Union. ... Ruby and the instigators of Kennedy's murder did not take into account the fact that Oswald suffered from psychiatric illness. When Ruby realized that after a prolonged interrogation, Oswald was capable of confessing everything, Ruby immediately liquidated Oswald."


But if Yeltsin finds the Kennedy murder intriguing, his motivations in presenting Clinton new documentation on it are probably mixed.


This gift to Clinton - who is an open admirer of Kennedy - comes as the two countries are patching a relationship damaged by NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia. Sokolov said Yeltsin initially ordered the documents to be prepared for transfer to the Americans in October, a date that was then postponed because of the Kosovo crisis.


Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute, called the documents "a symbol."


"Yeltsin held on to them until he needed to show his close relationship with Clinton," he said.


"I wouldn't be surprised if the latest move is a play to Clinton's ego," agreed J. Michael Waller, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, a Washington-based think tank highly critical of Clinton's policies on Russia. "Clinton has always considered himself a latter-day JFK. I think [the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service's] excellent psychological profiling has assessed Clinton at this point in time to be vulnerable to an approach that will play to his ego - and maybe persuade him to make concessions to Russia."


U.S. officials, taken aback at the unusual gift, have said the documents will be made public only after they have been studied by intelligence and defense agencies. The National Security Council said Wednesday that there was no estimate as to when that might be, The Associated Press reported.


Oswald, a former marine, arrived in Moscow on a tourist visa in October 1959, then applied for political asylum. He lived in Minsk until June 1962, working at the Gorizont Radio Factory. In November 1963, President Kennedy was killed in Dallas and Oswald was charged with his murder. Oswald was in turn killed by Ruby before his guilt could be assessed by the courts.


In 1991, 28 years after the murder, Mikhail Gorbachev ordered a KGB expert commission to complete a study of the Soviet Union's files on Oswald and the Kennedy assassination.


The study was never published, and it is not clear if it is among the 80 documents given to Clinton. But in 1992 and 1993, Izvestia published a series of articles based on interviews with KGB officers familiar with it.


Izvestia quoted these sources as saying that Soviet authorities in the early 1960s, after extensive surveillance, decided that Oswald would be of no use as an intelligence asset. They also noted that Oswald had joined a hunting club and bought a single-barrel shotgun, but was a rather poor marksman.


In its 1991 rehash of events, the KGB concluded that Oswald could not have pulled the murder off alone. KGB officers Izvestia interviewed concluded that "Oswald was incapable of preparing and executing an operation such as the Kennedy assassination all by himself." They also denied that Marina Prusakova, the drugstore employee Oswald met in Minsk and later married, was a KGB agent.


The files report that Oswald spoke Russian poorly, didn't get along with many of his co-workers, complained about his wages and threw a temper tantrum when his upstairs neighbor accidentally flooded his apartment.


In June 1962, prior to leaving for the United States, Oswald reportedly said to a neighbor: "You go on building your communism by yourselves. You can't even smile like human beings here."