Capital punishment was a legal penalty in the Soviet Union for most of the country's existence. The claimed legal basis for capital punishment was Article 22 of the Fundamental Principles of Criminal Legislation, which stated that the death penalty was permitted "as an exceptional measure of punishment, until its complete abolition".[1]

According to Western estimates, in the early 1980s Soviet courts passed around 2,000 death sentences every year, of which two-thirds were commuted to prison terms.[2] A 1991 Helsinki Watch report stated that in January of that year the Soviet Union for the first time published capital punishment data. It was disclosed that, in 1990, 445 individuals were given the death sentence, 195 people were executed and 29 death sentences were commuted. Execution took the form of a gunshot to the back of the head.[3] The death penalty was not applied to minors or pregnant women.[4]


During the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies in November 1917, the government of Soviet Russia decreed the abolition of death penalty. Later in February 1918, death penalty was reinstated. Hangings and shootings were very extensively employed by the Bolsheviks as part of their Red Terror.[5]

The first person to be sentenced to death by a Soviet court was Alexey Schastny, Admiral of the Baltic Fleet, on 21 June 1918.[2] Conditional death sentences also occurred in the early 1920s.[4] Decrees issued in 1922, 1923 and 1933 provided police with the right to carry out summary executions, but they were repealed in 1959.[4] Capital punishment was abolished on 26 May 1947, but was reinstated in 1950.[6] Capital punishment was extended to cases of aggravated murder in 1954.[4]

Capital crimes

In addition to crimes such as treason, espionage, terrorism and murder, capital punishment was imposed for economic crimes, such as "the pilfering of state or public property in especially large amounts".[7] The hijacking of a plane became a capital crime in 1973.[8]

Economic crimes

Capital punishment for crimes against state and public property was reintroduced in 1961.[9] During the same year, two foreign currency traders, Rokotov and Faibishenko, were retroactively sentenced to death and executed.[10] By 1987, over 6,000 people had been executed for committing an economic crime.[9] The death penalty was generally applied if the crime involved sums exceeding about 10,000 rubles, though there was no fixed threshold.[9]

Several officials were executed for economic crimes as part of Yuri Andropov's anti-corruption campaign.[11] Vladimir I. Rytov, a deputy Minister of Fisheries, was executed in 1982 for smuggling millions of dollars worth of caviar to the West.[12] The director of Gastronom 1, one of Moscow's most prominent gourmet food stores, was executed in 1984 for corruption.[13] The chairman of Technopromexport was executed in 1984 for "systematically taking big bribes".[11] Berta Borodkina, head of the restaurants and canteens department in Gelendzhik, was sentenced to death for receiving $758,500 in bribes.[14][15][16]

In 1964 The New York Times noted that "60 percent of the 160 persons executed for economic crimes since 1961 were Jews."[17]

See also


  1. ^ Ioffe, O. Olimpiad Solomonovich; Janis, Mark Weston (1987). Soviet Law and Economy. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 9024732654.
  2. ^ a b Schmemann, Serge (August 3, 1983). "In Soviet, The Death Penalty Persists Without Any Debate". New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  3. ^ Kushen, Robert; Schwartz, Herman; Mikva, Abner (1991). Prison Conditions in the Soviet Union. Helsinki Watch. p. 29. ISBN 1-56432-049-9.
  4. ^ a b c d van den Berg, Ger P. (April 1983). "The Soviet Union and the death penalty". Soviet Studies. 35 (2): 154–174. doi:10.1080/09668138308411469.
  5. ^ Red Terror at 100: What Was Behind a Vicious Soviet Strategy
  6. ^ Magnusdottir, Rosa (2010). "Review of Hilger, Andreas, "Tod den Spionen!": Todesurteile sowjetischer Gerichte in der SBZ/DDR und in der Sowjetunion bis 1953". H-Net. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  7. ^ Clark, William A. (2016). Crime and Punishment in Soviet Officialdom: Combating Corruption in the Soviet Elite, 1965-90: Combating Corruption in the Soviet Elite, 1965-90. Routledge. ISBN 9781315486635.
  8. ^ "At Least Seven Die In Shootout After Hijacking Of A Soviet Plane". The New York Times. November 23, 1983. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c Kline, George L. (May 1987). "Capital Punishment For Crimes Against State And Public Property In The Soviet Union Today" (PDF). National Council For Soviet And East European Research. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  10. ^ Sakharov, Andrei D. (February 9, 1978). "The Death Penalty". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  11. ^ a b "2 High Soviet Officials Are Executed For Graft". The New York Times. January 14, 1984. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  12. ^ Chazanov, Mathis (April 27, 1982). "Soviets reports execution in caviar scandal". UPI. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  13. ^ Mydans, Seth (August 5, 1984). "Soviet Millionaire's Path To The Firing Squad". New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  14. ^ "Two soldiers and two civilian defense arms experts were..." UPI. April 26, 1984. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  15. ^ "Graft and Embezzlement,-Most Persistent Crimes in Soviet, Continue to Plague the Economy". The New York Times. April 13, 1976. Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  16. ^ Henry Kamm (October 4, 1967). "Blue Scarf Gang in Soviet Shows Business Sense; Izvestia Traces Success of Group in Azerbaijan to Its Satisfied Customers". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "KROKODIL COMMENTS ON "ECONOMIC CRIME"; Russia Has 'Socialist Crime,' Too". The New York Times. April 5, 1964. Retrieved November 10, 2022.