Vladimir Mikhaylovich Petrov (February 15, 1907 – June 14, 1991 (aged 84)) was a member of the Soviet Union's clandestine services who became famous in 1954 for his defection to Australia.
He was born Afanasy Mikhaylovich Shorokhov, into a peasant family in the village of Larikha, in central Siberia. He joined the Komsomol in 1923, using his Communist Party affiliation to gain an education, which would greatly benefit him. Through this education he was able to do well enough on his naval recruiting tests to become specially selected for the cipher-work training course. After the two-year technical course which qualified him as a cipher specialist, he was posted to a ship in the Baltic Sea to encrypt and decrypt the secret signals. According to his recently released secret British MI5 file, Petrov stated during his post-defection interviewing that his intelligence career was as follows :
- 1929-1933 cypher clerk Soviet Navy.
- 1933-1938 N.K.V.D. Moscow dealing with overseas cypher communications.
- 1939 N.K.V.D. cypher clerk attached to Soviet Army Western China.
- 1940-1942 N.K.V.D. cypher clerk Moscow dealing with Internal communications.
- 1942-1947 N.K.V.D. cypher clerk Sweden with additional Internal Security duties.
- 1947-1951 M.G.B. Moscow dealing with seamen on the Danube.
- 1951-1954 M.G.B. controller in Australia.
Petrov also gave information about the defection of Burgess and Maclean of the Cambridge Five. Their escape had been handled by Kislitsyn, an M.G.B. officer who was in Australia when Petrov defected in 1954. Petrov also disclosed that Burgess and McLean were living in Kuibyshev in 1954. (National Archives Reference:kv/2/3440). He decided to join the Soviet spy organization, the OGPU, in May 1933. He was subsequently admitted to the Special Cipher Section, which was attached to the Foreign Department of the OGPU. It was his status in this section which allowed him to learn many Soviet secrets by reading the top secret ciphers. Petrov miraculously survived the purges of Stalin under Yagoda, Yezhov, and Beria. Even though a great number of his friends, colleagues, and superiors were arrested and executed, Petrov escaped unscathed.
Having graduated from cipher clerk to full-fledged agent, Petrov was sent to Australia by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) in 1951. His job there was to recruit spies and to keep watch on Soviet citizens, making sure that none of the Soviets abroad defected. Ironically, it was in Australia where the fateful events would occur, which led to his own defection from the USSR. This came about through his association with the Polish-born doctor and musician Michael Bialoguski, who played along in seeming to allow Petrov to recruit him to gather information, while at the same time reporting to Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on Petrov's activities. Vladimir Petrov applied for political asylum in 1954, on the grounds that he could provide information regarding a Soviet spy ring operating out of the Soviet Embassy in Australia.
Petrov states in his memoirs (ghost written by Michael Thwaites) that his reasoning for defecting lay not in an imminent fear of being executed, but in his disillusionment with the Soviet system and his own experiences and knowledge of the terror and human suffering inflicted on the Soviet people by their government. He was there to witness the destruction of the Siberian village in which he was born, caused by forced collectivization and the famine which resulted. He remembered the blacksmith who taught him of the virtues of Communism and who also got him started in his education. This blacksmith was labeled a kulak and forcibly deported with his entire family, probably to die. Petrov learned the true excesses behind the Great Purges while decrypting signals which set quotas for the murder of citizens. Petrov became an Australian citizen in 1956. His and Evdokia's names were changed to Sven and Maria Anna Allyson. They lived a quiet suburban life in Melbourne. He died in 1991, and she died in 2002. The whereabouts of the Petrovs were still the subject of a D-Notice in 1982.