Lavrentiy Beria was the leader of the NKVD under Joseph Stalin. To give some perspective, the NKVD was the predecessor to the KGB and it basically was the secret police. It was the premier intelligence agency in the Soviet Union and it was used by the government to enforce Soviet economic and social policies. They ran the Gulags and state work camps as well as “took care” of any dissidents and Political undesirables. Beria was an important figure in Stalin’s regime. He organized the Katyn massacre after the Soviets occupied Poland, he also controlled all NKVD field units and affiliated partisans during the Great Patriotic war. He was also in charge of Stalin’s purges and before the death of Stalin, was preparing to eliminate the rest of the old Bolsheviks, in particular Vyacheslav Molotov who is most known to history for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Overall, Beria was the most influential and trusted of Stalin’s minions.
Ironically, he hated Stalin. He was seen to have been the only member of the central committee to have rejoiced at his passing. Kissing Stalin’s hand as he lay on his deathbed one moment, only to immediately stand and spit after seeing he was unconscious. He seemed quite pleased when Stalin died and began to make preparations for taking power immediately after. Shortly after the death of Stalin, Beria became the First Deputy premier of the Soviet Union under Georgy Malenkov. As Malenkov was a weak man, Beria planned to use him and then seize power. Under Malenkov, Beria’s authority increased and he began to basically run the Soviet Union himself, much to the chagrin of the Central Committee and in particular Nikita Kruschev.
Beria’s ambitions for the Soviet Union were quite different from the precedent Stalin head set up. Immediately after Beria was in charge, he oversaw the release of millions of prisoners and shut down many gulags as well as providing general amnesty for all those who had been convicted of crimes. Beria also began reducing the traditional pro Russian focus by halting the persecution of ethnic minorities in Georgia and Ukraine. Beria was also skeptical of the wisdom of the Soviet land grabs after WWII. According to other members of the Central committee, Beria openly suggested the transfer of the Kaliningrad Oblast to Germany, part of Karelia to Finland, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic to Romania and the Kuril Islands to Japan in exchange for a political detente. The last straw came during the 1953 East German uprising when Beria seemingly proposed the Unification of Germany in exchange for economic aid from the United States and the end of the Cold war.
The other members of the Central Committee were mortified. Nikita Kruschev acted quickly, rallying the committee to his cause. In an elaborate plot Kruschev organized an ambush and during a Presidium meeting Beria and all of his key associates were arrested. He was accused of treason, terrorism, and counterrevolutionary activity. Beria was also a known rapist and pedophile. This was an open secret to the ruling party members, even Stalin would not leave Beria alone in a room with his daughter. Beria was known to invite women to his sound proofed office under false pretenses and rape them. As they left his men would present them with a bouquet, indicating that the sex had been consensual. If the woman refused the flowers, she would be arrested. Beria also would entice wives of political prisoners with sex in exchange for relaxed treatment for their husbands. Unfortunately for these women, Beria never gave special treatment and many times their husbands were already dead. Beria also slept with girls as young as 14.
As a result, there was no shortage of reasons to get rid of Beria and no one mourned his death. He was executed on December 23rd 1953 by General Pavel Batitsky. He was shot in the head and cremated, his ashes being dumped in a nearby forest.
Beria’s visions for the Soviet Union could have been much more liberal than even gorbachev and the Cold war could have ended much sooner. However, he was a horrible person and his regime very likely could have been just as brutal as Stalin as he got older and maybe more paranoid.