Viktor Karpukhin, 55, a retired KGB major general and heavily decorated combat veteran of Soviet commando and anti-terrorist operations who may be best remembered for his refusal to obey orders in 1991, died March 23 after a heart attack.
He was stricken while returning to Moscow on a train from Minsk, where he had attended a veterans reunion.
Gen. Karpukhin helped to lead the KGB's elite Alpha special operations group in the 1979 storming of the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul. Part of the massive Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Alpha's assault resulted in the shooting of Afghan President Hafizullah Amin and his replacement by the pro-Soviet Babrak Karim.
He went on to participate in such operations as the freeing of hostages held in a Soviet airliner in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1983, and the storming of a prison in the Soviet Republic of Georgia in 1990. As the Soviet Union imploded, he commanded forces in the Soviet Baltic states to put down pro-independence forces.
Gen. Karpukhin, who had been named a Hero of the Soviet Union and held both the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner, had made a career as a leading sword and shield of what then-President Ronald Reagan called "the Evil Empire." But that changed in 1991.
Communist hard-liners, including the head of the KGB, attempted a coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin, president of Soviet Russia, led resistance to the coup from the White House, the seat of the Russian parliament in Moscow. Gen. Karpukhin was ordered by his KGB superiors to take Yeltsin and to disperse pro-Gorbachev demonstrators by force.
Other Alpha officers say the general initially intended to obey his orders but eventually did the unthinkable for a KGB officer and refused to budge. It was later reported that a poll was taken of all his officers and they all agreed that the order to attack was illegal. Gen. Karpukhin later maintained that his forces could have easily taken their objectives in less than 30 minutes, but only at great cost of life to Russian citizens. The coup attempt collapsed after three days.
In an interview with the Russian newspaper Rossiya, the general said that KGB Chief Vladimir Kryuchkov called him into his office on Aug. 19, 1991, and told him that the fate of the country depended on his actions and that he was being given command of 15,000 specially trained KGB and Interior Ministry troops. These troops were to storm the White House and take Yeltsin to a "special location" in the wooded suburb of Zavidovo.
Gen. Karpukhin said, "From the very beginning, I did everything to avoid fulfilling the orders of the KGB," adding that "everything depended on me. It would have been a slaughterhouse and a bloody meat grinder. I refused."
In a television interview, Gen. Karpukhin said: "I am no bloodthirsty person. I didn't want to kill anyone." He added that "these were absolutely ordinary people. And that's how I saw them. I felt no malice towards them."
After the coup attempt, he retired from the KGB and embarked on a career that was both varied and adventurous. He worked for the security of entrepreneurship committee of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, served for a time as security chief to Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and even joined a British rally team that drove from London to New York by way of Russia and the Bering Strait. He also worked for private security services in Moscow.
Gen. Karpukhin, the son of a Red Army officer, was born in the Volynskaya region of Ukraine, graduated from the Soviet Army Academy in Tashkent and was commissioned in the KGB Border Guards in 1969. Before his service in Afghanistan, his assignments ranged from armored operations to KGB commandos.
Survivors include his wife and two daughters.