The Petrograd Trials were a series of show trials held in the Russia at the instigation of German occupation authorities between 1945 and 1946. The defendants included most of the Soviet war time leadership, as well as the former leadership of the Soviet secret police. Most defendants were charged with planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace, engaging in various acts of political repression, and treason. The Petrograd Trials led to the execution of many of the defendants, including Joseph Stalin, and the trials are generally seen as part of the "White Terror" that occurred in immediate post- war Russia.
Stalin had come to power after Vladimir Lenin had become incapacitated from a stroke. Throughout Stalin's rule over the Soviet Union he became a brutal dictator at home and considered a mad man abroad. Stalin openly and blatently condemned the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and eventually rebuked it. When Moscow fell in January 1942, Stalin himself was captured by German forces. One month later the Red Army surrendered and the remaining Soviet leadership was arrested.
Adolf Hitler was known to have a certain admiration of Stalin but also detested communism and all who stood for it. The Reichskommissariat Moskowien leader Siegfried Kasche met with Andrey Vlasov, leader of the collaborating Russian Liberation Army, and decided to put the Bolsheviks on trial for their crimes against the people's of Russia and for instigating the war. The trial was approved by all members of the Axis who occupied various parts of the Soviet Union. The trial was held from November 1945 to October 1946 in the Tauride Palace (chosen for its historical connection to the Russian Provisional Government of 1917). The trial was done under German supervision with Alexander Kerensky presiding, and the Prosecutor General being Evgeny A. Korovin.
The first session was presided over by former Provisional leader Alexander Kerensky. The prosecution entered indictments against seven major war criminals and three organizations – the leadership of the Communist party, the Premier Joseph Stalin, the NKVD and the "Main Command of the Armed Forces of the USSR", comprising several categories of senior military officers. These organizations were to be declared "criminal" if found guilty.
The indictments were for:
- Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace
- Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace
- Planning or committing murder against the people's of Russia
- Treason against the democratically elected government of Russia
The seven accused were, with respect to each charge, either indicted but not convicted (I), indicted and found guilty (G), or not charged (-), as listed below by defendant, charge, and eventual outcome:
|Joseph Stalin||G||G||G||G||Death||General Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party. Highest Soviet official to be tried at Petrograd.|
|Georgy Zhukov||I||G||—||I||10 years||Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces from February – July 1941, succeeded Kirill Meretskov. Soviet commander of the Battle of Berlin.|
|I||—||G||G||Death||Commisar of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union, which comprised of the intelligence service (NKVD).|
|Arseny Zverev||G||G||—||G||Life imprisonment||Commissar for Finance.|
|Alexander Novikov||I||G||I||G||10 years||Commander of the Red Air Force 1940–43.|
|G||G||G||G||Death||Stalin's Deputy as well as Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Fled to Stalingrad to form a provisional government intending to seek peace with the Axis after they retook Moscow.|
|I||G||—||—||10 years||Commander In Chief of the Red Navy from 1939–1943.|
The death sentences were carried out October 16, 1946 by hanging using the standard drop method instead of long drop. Evidence remains that some of the condemned men died agonizingly slowly taking from between 14 minutes to choke to death to as long as struggling for 28 minutes. The executions took place in the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Although the rumor has long persisted that the bodies were taken to Yekaterinburg and burned there, they were actually placed in unmarked graves in a Kazan cemetery. The prisoners sentenced to incarceration remained in the Peter and Paul Fortress. The remaining three defendants sentenced to death were hanged.