Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski was a Polish Cold War spy who divides opinions. He has been hailed as a hero by some and denounced as a traitor by others for leaking confidential plans about the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact alliance to the CIA.
Kukliński was born in Warsaw on 13th of June 1930. As a teenager, he looked up to his father and wanted to follow in his military footsteps. At the age of 17, Kukliński went as far as faking his own date of birth in order to join the army early.
In 1964 Kukliński joined the General Staff and became one of the most influential people in the Polish Army; the Chief of Strategic-Defence Planning Division of the General Staff of the Polish Army. There he oversaw war plans and strategy as well as staying in touch with the Soviet Union authorities. Despite his high ranking, Kuklinski was not trusted by the Soviet military authorities. Circumstances changed when he and a few members of the Polish military were invited to discuss plans for a potential World War III. During that time PRL was an integral partner of the Soviet Union, and the Polish People’s Army was inseparable from the Warsaw Pact defense structure. The most important military decisions affecting the Polish people were made in Moscow. The turning point in Ryszard Kuklinski’s life was a document intended for a small group of generals, it stated: “The operational doctrine of the Polish armed forces is subordinate to the general doctrine of the forces of socialism. Without undermining the importance of defense, we prioritize offensive actions. Polish missions – as part of Warsaw Pact Armed Forces operations – should anticipate offensive missions along the northern coast, at a range of 500 to 800km, in a 200 to 250km belt moving at a rate of 60 to 80km per day.” The implication was that the Polish Army was to fight beyond the Polish borders and push all the way to the Atlantic. At the same time, a second wave of Warsaw Pact forces was to enter Poland within the first three days. In other words, 3 million Red Army soldiers and 38,000 tanks and armored vehicles would descend upon Poland. The document predicted that, within six to eight hours of the invasion, the Polish Army would be completely destroyed. To save the planet from World War III, Kukliński provided roughly 35,000 secret Soviet military documents to the CIA. In fact, what he provided were the Communist’s destructive plans to instigate a third World War. By passing those documents to the United States, Colonel Kukliński played a key role in helping America to win the Cold War. The story has been corroborated, not only by American political, military, and intelligence chiefs but also by Soviet leadership. For Poland, a Third World War would have been a catastrophe. Regardless of its outcome, Poland would have been left a nuclear wasteland.
Colonel Kukliński risked his and his family’s life when making difficult decisions throughout his career. He displayed civil, as well as military courage. Colonel Kuklinski fled to the United States with his family in 1981, just prior to martial law was imposed in Poland. He had been living in the United States under a secret name in an unknown location. Shortly after his move he lost two of his sons, Bogdan and Waldemar in mysterious circumstances. Many suspect that the Polish or Russian secret services played a role in their deaths. Kukliński’s actions between 1971 and 1981 represent the single most important intelligence operation of the entire Cold War. The Polish communist government sentenced him to the death penalty, and after the death penalty was banned in Poland in 1989 his sentence was changed to 25 years in prison. In May 1998 Kukliński return to Poland to deliver a lecture at the Royal Castle in Warsaw in which he revealed some details about his activities during the Cold War. Only eight years after the fall of the Polish People’s Republic In 1997, Colonel Kukliński was acquitted by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland.
The politico-military consequences of Kuklinski’s activities made him the most important US intelligence agent of the 20th century and he was proclaimed by the former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzeziński as “the first Polish officer in NATO”. Ryszard Kukliński died peacefully of natural causes in America on February 11th, 2004.
A source of detailed information about Colonel Ryszard Kukliński can be found on a website dedicated to his life and work: https://www.generalkuklinski.com/en/ as well as the General Ryszard Kukliński Museum, operated by the Józef Szaniawski Foundation in Warsaw.