January 01, 2014

The Plot to Assassinate Brezhnev

It was supposed to be just another cosmonaut reception, celebrating another in the string of successes the Soviet Union was enjoying in space. On January 22, 1969, four cosmonauts arrived in Moscow after completing the first-ever docking of two spacecraft in orbit (Soyuz 4 and 5), and the transfer of a crew member from one ship to another through only the second ever space walk. The mission was a test of part of the plan for bringing a cosmonaut back from a Soviet moon landing.

The cosmonauts were greeted at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport by General Secretary Brezhnev and other Politburo members, as well as cosmonaut luminaries like Valentina Tereshkova and Alexey Leonov. But then, en route to the Kremlin, a lone gunman, Victor Ilyin, opened fire on the barricade just outside Borovitsky Gate. The assassin – an AWOL army lieutenant upset over his forced conscription and the previous year’s Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia – unloaded 14 shots, aiming for Brezhnev, whom he assumed was in the second car. But that car was filled with cosmonaut VIPs, some of whom were injured by the gunfire; the driver was killed. The gunman was subsequently declared insane and spent the next 20 years in an asylum.

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