NKVD troika or Special troika (Russian: особая тройка), in Soviet Union history, were institutional commissions of three persons who issued sentences to people after simplified, speedy investigations and without a full trial. These commissions were employed as an instrument of extrajudicial punishment introduced to supplement the Soviet legal system with a means for quick execution or imprisonment. It began as an institution of the Cheka, then later became prominent again in the NKVD, when it was used during the Great Purge to execute many hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens.
'Troika' literally means "a group of three" or "triad" in Russian.
The first "operational troikas" (оперативная тройка) were introduced in the "centre", in the Moscow military okrug in 1929. The qualifier "operational" denotes they were based on the operational departments of the state police (OGPU).
In January 1930, as part of the collectivization program, the Soviet Politburo authorized the state police to screen the peasant population of the entire Soviet Union. Normal legal procedures were suspended and the corresponding OGPU order of 2 February specified the measures needed for "the liquidation of the kulaks as a class". In each locality, a group of three people, or "troika", would decide the fate of the peasants branded as "kulaks". The troika, composed of a member of the state police, a local communist party secretary, and a state procurator, had the authority to issue rapid and severe verdicts (death or exile) without the right to appeal. In effect they served as judges, juries, and executioners.
Gradually, troikas were introduced to other parts of the Soviet Union for various and different purposes: "court troikas" (судебная тройка), "extraordinary troikas" (чрезвычайная тройка), and "special troikas" (специальная тройка).
Secret Order № 00447 — the "Kulak Operations"
A notable step was the NKVD Order no. 00447 by July 30, 1937 О репрессировании бывших кулаков, уголовников и других антисоветских элементов ("Concerning the repression of former kulaks, criminals, and other anti-Soviet elements") undersigned by Nikolai Yezhov. By this order, troikas were created on the levels of republic, krai and oblast. Investigation was to be performed by 'operative groups' "in a speedy and simplified way" and the results were to be delivered to troikas for trials.
The chairman of a troika was the chief of the corresponding territorial subdivision of NKVD (People's Commissar of a republican NKVD, etc.). Usually a troika included the prosecutor of the republic/krai/oblast in question; if not, he was allowed to be present at the session of a troika. The third person was usually the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) secretary of the corresponding regional level. The staff of these troikas were personally specified in the Order № 00447. While Order 00447 decreed the personal constitution of all troikas, in the course of the Purge many members of troikas were repressed themselves, so the staff of troikas varied over time.
Protocols of a troika session were passed to the corresponding operative group for executions of sentences. Times and places of executions of death sentences were ordered to be held in secret.
When Operation № 00447 was finally stopped, on November 17, 1938, by the Decree about Arrests, Prosecutor Supervision and Course of Investigation, issued jointly by the Sovnarkom and Central Committee of the CPSU, it is estimated that up to 767,000 persons had been condemned, of whom 387,000 had been executed by shooting.
The "National Operations"
On August 11, 1937, following a Politburo top-secret resolution taken two days earlier, Nikolai Ezhov issued another secret directive, Order № 00485, aimed at "the complete liquidation of local branches of the Polish Military Organization (POW) and its networks of spies, wreckers and terrorists in industry, transport and agriculture".
Due to a backlog of people being processed by "dvoikas" (two person extrajudicial commissions) as part of the Polish Operations, on September 15, 1938 the Politburo issued the resolution (# П64/22) about the creation of special troikas (Особая тройка) for the period of the Polish operation of the NKVD.
Order № 00485 served as a model for a series of similar NKVD "National Operations" targeting a number of the Soviet Union's diaspora nationalities and ethnic groups: the German, Finnish, Latvian, Estonian, Romanian, Greek, and Chinese. The NKVD referred to these decrees collectively as "the National Operations" directed against "nationalities of foreign governments".
According to NKVD statistics, from July 1937 to November 1938, 335,513 persons were sentenced by troikas in the course of the implementation of the National Operations. Among them, 247,157 (or 73.6%) were executed by shooting.
- Yezhov, Nikolai (1937). Приказ НКВД от 30.07.1937 № 00447. Wikisource.
- Conquest, Robert (1992). The Great Terror. London. pp. 286–7.
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