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Defector from Commie Land

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A common plot for stories set during the Cold War. A character from Commie Land wants to get to the West and the heroes have to help them get there. (There are also what are called "defectors in place", but they're The Mole... until they're blown, in which case they become one of these).

This will sometimes entail them actually traversing the Iron Curtain, but it doesn't have to... they could already be in the West and have to slip their Secret Police minders. The Warsaw Pact states were acutely aware of the potential for defection and those in government, entertainment or sport were usually barred from taking their families with them when going overseas i.e. so the families could be held hostage against them coming back; if they did flee, the family would be subject to some pretty intense hardship. This can add an extra complication to the plot as the heroes will also need to retrieve the defector's family.

However, the defector may actually turn out to Fake Defector or Renegade Russian. Compare Heroic Russian Émigré.

The defector will often bring a present with them to the West (aside from a nice chest in some cases). These can include:

  • The name of or clues as to the identity of The Mole.
  • Copied documents (often in microfilm form)
  • Electronics, such as a coding machine.
  • A full-blown piece of military tech, such as a fighter plane, helicopter or a ballistic missile submarine, basically by flying it across the Iron Curtain.


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    Comic Books 
  • The plot behind one Buck Danny story: a Russian pilot in a brand-new fighter asks for asylum in the US.
  • The Flash, In one comic, supporting character Dr. Jerry McGee is dying from steroid side effects that can only be treated by the Russian geneticist Dr. Orloff. The Flash goes to the Soviet Union and tries to convince Orloff to defect to treat McGee in America. Orloff thinks highly of McGee and hates life in the Soviet Union, but he is reluctant to outright defect due to not wanting to abandon Red Trinity, a trio of young Soviet soldiers who developed powers due to his research. The problem is solved when Red Trinity stumbles across their conversation and reveals that they want to defect themselves and start a Punch-Clock Hero agency in America.

  • Agent for H.A.R.M. has this as Backstory.
  • The Company Man is about a man who pretends to be a CIA agent to gain the respect of his in-laws. But a high-profile Soviet dancer decides to defect and approaches the the man believing his lies. The CIA actually make him an agent just so they can get the credit and send him somewhere quiet...Cuba.
  • James Bond has two examples:
    • From Russia with Love, although she's actually in Turkey first.
    • The Living Daylights has two: Renegade Russian General Koskov, and later Kara Milovy. The former gets the latter (his girlfriend) to pose as a KGB sniper to make his defection look real, with every intention of having her killed by James Bond. Bond notes that she's an amateur and merely shoots the rifle from her hands. "I must have scared the living daylights out of her."
      • The same situation occurs in the original short story, although there isn't actually a defector: The man Bond is protecting is a British agent trying to make it back to the West, and Milovy is a real KGB sniper, albeit with an AK-47, with the Code Name "Trigger". Bond decides she's rather a looker, doesn't want to kill someone in cold blood and does the same as he does in the movie, but with more serious injuries.
    • And one inversion in GoldenEye, in the form of ex-MI-6 Alec Trevelyan. His defection is covered up as a killed-in-action via execution by then-Colonel Ourumov just before the chemical weapons plant is demolished.
  • Condorman's main plot is set off by the High-Heel–Face Turn of KGB spy Natalia, who falls for the eponymous dashing top-secret agent during a courier mission. She's unaware that he's really a comic book writer who convinced his CIA friend to let him take the mission as a way to prove that he can actually be Condorman. Hilarity Ensues as they are chased all over Eastern Europe by Natalia's former boss and his murderous goons.
  • Escape From East Berlin: A family of secret dissidents and some friends try to tunnel under the Berlin Wall from their ideally located house.
  • Anton Vanko in Iron Man 2, who was sent back to the USSR after falling out with Howard Stark. While not a Fake Defector or The Mole originally, Vanko betrayed Stark and tried to deliver the arc reactor technology he co-invented with Stark for purely capitalist motives. The Soviets would've paid him a lot more for it than the salary he was drawing from Stark Industries. Stark found out and got him deported, and since Vanko was unable to recreate the reactor on his own, the Soviets exiled him to Siberia.
  • The Good Shepherd: Valentin Mironov is a former KGB agent who defects to the United States to assist Edward Wilson's counterintelligence unit in the new CIA against the Soviets.
  • The Net (2016): Subverted in that the protagonist didn't actually want to. The main plot is about a fisherman from North Korea who accidentally crosses the border with South Korea, and wants to return home.
  • Rambo III: The Russian medic, Yuri, who defected from the Soviet Army and helps the Mujahideen after witnessing the numerous atrocities committed by his superiors, definitely counts.
  • The protagonist Jang Hak-Soo from Operation Chromite was a former DPRK Captain who defected to the South and became the leader of the X-Ray covert group when his former comrades executed his father for being part of the bourgeois class.
  • Blood Alley features a professional skipper (John Wayne) being recruited to help two hundred Red Chinese villagers flee to Hong Kong in the 1950s.
  • The Wicked Dreams Of Paula Schultz: Paula Schultz is a prominent East German athlete who doesn't find life in the east ideal but defects rather spontaneously by pole-vaulting over the Berlin Wall after assistant minister Klaus's unwelcome advances leave her completely disillusioned and afraid for her future if she stays in East Germany. She temporarily returns after being disillusioned with the west, but then defects again, with Klaus and agent Weber defecting as well to avoid being shot for allowing her escape.

  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: in common speech beyond this wiki, John le Carré is the Trope Namer. This is sort of thing is called "to come in from the cold".
    • Also Karla in Smiley's People.
  • Northlight, a Quiller novel by Adam Hall. Quiller is sent to bring across The Mole who has evidence that the Soviets destroyed a British submarine outside their territorial limit. It turns out that his superiors don't want this evidence made public because the outcry would halt an upcoming peace conference, so they set up Quiller and the mole to be killed.
  • The Hunt for Red October. With the aforementioned ballistic missile submarine.
    • The switch from The Mole to this comes up in another of the Jack Ryan books, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, when CARDINAL, an agent who provided intel about Red October, is blown and needs to be rescued along with his handlers.
  • The title character in Lawrence Block's Tanner's Twelve Swingers helped an entire Latvian women's gymnastic team defect to the US, in addition to a government official, a Royal heiress, a Russian fighter pilot and the pilot's aircraft.
  • John Putnam Thatcher: A minor plot point in Going for the Gold has a figure skater at the Winter Olympics abruptly defect to the U.S. Unusually, her coaches and handlers don't try to stop her, or even care that much.
  • Modesty Blaise series:
    • The Impossible Virgin begins with a Soviet satellite imagery interpreter deciding to defect, not through idealism but because he's discovered something in one of his satellite images that will make him very rich if he can exploit it before anyone else discovers it. The actual defection is accomplished by the end of the fourth page, because he's a very minor functionary so he can easily jump ship while on holiday and his superiors won't bother chasing after him; the plot of the novel is about what happens after that, as a result of him choosing poorly about who to bring in on his secret.
    • In the short story "The Giggle-Wrecker", spy chief Tarrant asks Modesty and Willie to take on the job of smuggling a Soviet defector across the Berlin Wall, as he has no agents in place except sleepers he doesn't want to activate if it can be avoided. They succeed; the defector turns out to be Communist agent whose fake defection was a deliberate attempt to force Tarrant to activate the sleepers so they could be identified by the Soviets.
  • The Memory Trap by Anthony Price kicks off with a Russian defector being murdered just as he makes contact with the British agents who have come to fetch him, managing to pass on a cryptic and incomplete message before dying.
  • Schwarzesmarken: Inverted with Katia Waldheim, a Bundeswehr TSF pilot who defects from West to East Germany at the start of the series.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Airwolf has quite a few examples. It helped that the eponymous Black Helicopter had stealth capability for extractions from Commie Land.
  • Castle: One Victim of the Week is a Cuban baseball player who defected eighteen years ago by bribing a guard during the Olympics.
  • Cold Case: One episode begins with the Victim of the Week (a famous baseball player) and several other Cuban refugees rafting to Florida.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: When a Soviet gymnastics team passes through Hazzard, one member slips off their bus and asks the Duke Family to help her defect. Their efforts are hindered by Boss Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane, who view the gymnast's KGB minders as potential black market contacts.
  • Get Smart:
    • In several episodes, Max encounters defectors from the Nazi Commies KAOS organization.
    • Another time, a member of a Soviet swim team contacts him for help in defecting, but he can't remember her name and has to spend a while figuring out which team member she is ( it turns out to be their coach).
  • Common in Mission: Impossible.
  • Also common in MacGyver (1985). Notably in an early episode when Mac smuggles himself out hidden in a casket that transforms into a jet ski.
  • Murder, She Wrote
    • In "Death Takes a Curtain Call," the defection of two lovers and ballet students is complicated when they become murder suspects.
    • In "One White Rose for Death", Jessica's friend in the British Secret Service scrambles to rescue a spy (the brother of an East German violinist) after his cover is blown.
  • Night Court: In one episode, Recurring Character Yakov introduces the main cast to his brother, who is visiting from the Soviet Union with a circus. His brother tries to defect, but gets homesick and changes his mind.
  • In one episode of The West Wing, a North Korean concert pianist performing in the US slips a note to the President stating his desire to defect. The administration have to reluctantly decline as they're currently in crucial negotiations with North Korea. After the pianist leaves, the administration learns that North Korea are pulling out of said negotiations anyway due to an unrelated diplomatic issue.
  • The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries used this three times:
    • Sole Survivor revolved around East Germans trying to stop the defection of a Chinese scientist, using a Mind Screw to get Joe Hardy to spill his guts.
    • Mystery On The Avalanche Express had a side plot of a ski champion wanting to defect to the West, and dragging Joe into the matter.
    • Defection To Paradise had the daughter of a top Russian Official being chased down by Russian assassins, and Frank and Joe trying to help her escape.
  • An episode of Joe 90 featured a concert pianist who defected in the middle of one of his own live radio broadcasts when Joe (who had been programmed with the pianist's own brain-pattern) took his place at the piano; and his guards never noticed a thing.
  • The 'Asylum' episode from Barney Miller has a Soviet ballet dancer trying to defect to the detectives at the station.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati: When Les and Bailey are reporting on an otherwise ignored conference by several Soviet livestock specialists visiting America, one Russian slips Bailey a note asking her to help him defect.
  • Young Sheldon: Tam's family were among the "boat people" who fled Vietnam after the war.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In The Madness Dossier, one suggested player-character type is a survivor of the rather brutal Russian psychic warfare research program (which goes back to Cold War times, and hasn't got much nicer since), who can have acquired some weird powers and an understanding of the true nature of reality. The protagonists of Project SANDMAN will certainly help such people defect and look to employ them; the defector may be entirely willing to help, realizing just how bad their opponents are.
  • The "Defectors" card in Twilight Struggle is a US-event card that has a couple of functions: during the initial headline phase of each turn it cancels whatever card the Soviet player puts up as their headline, and during the action rounds of each turn if the Soviet player plays from their hand the US player gets 1 Victory Point. The game notes that while defections across the Iron Curtain went both ways throughout the Cold War, East to West was more common and tended to be more high-profile and thus on average tended to embarrass the Soviet side more often.

  • In Chess, Anatoly defects to the West after winning the match against Freddy. His wife implores him to reconsider in the second act.

    Video Games 
  • Nikolai Stepanovich Sokolov from Metal Gear Solid 3.
  • The very first mission of No One Lives Forever involves Cate Archer breaking an East German scientist who wants to defect to Britain out of a military installation. After succeeding, their plane is boarded by H.A.R.M. agents on the way back to Britain. They kidnap the scientist and blow a hole in the plane, causing Archer to fall out, leading to an action sequence in which the player has to fight off paratrooping Mooks and steal the parachute off one of them or else fall fatally into a barn.
  • This happens a couple of times in the Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series:
    • In the Allied campaign of Red Alert 1, one of the missions involves rescuing a Soviet general who is opposed to Stalin's methods and wishes to defect to the West. He later provides valuable intelligence on Stalin's plan to nuke the major cities of Europe.
    • In both the Allied and Imperial campaigns of Red Alert 3, Dr. Zelinsky defects to the Allies and brings with him the information about the timeline-messing actions he and Cherdenko did in making Albert Einstein Retgone and the subsequent rise of the Empire.
      • Inverted in the backstory, the reason the MiG has the same return-to-base ability as Allied aircraft is because a defector gave the technlogy to the Soviets.
  • Rainbow Six Siege features a DLC operator from South Korea, Vigil, whose Mysterious Past implies that he is a North Korean defector.
  • Inverted in Hitman (2016). Jasper Knight, the target of the final tutorial mission, was a CIA spy who attempted to defect to the Soviet Union during the Cold War with a head full of state secrets, and the CIA hired Agent 47's predecessor Erich Soders to silence him. Agent 47's final exam before being hired by the ICA was to reenact the Knight assassination.

    Western Animation 
  • Neo Yokio: Mila Malevich defected the Soviet Union to live the high life of a capitalist in Neo Yokio, rather for political reasons, so this trope partially applies.
  • Inverted in an episode of The Simpsons, where a ballet teacher is such a hardass that he defects to East Germany, revealing that his story of coming to America by cartwheeling over the Berlin Wall in a previous episode may have not been what it seemed.

    Real Life 
Cold War examples
  • During the Cold War, the Americans acquired examples of a number of Soviet fighters via defecting pilots, from several countries. Some of these planes were returned, but others were kept. The most famous example is Viktor Belenko, who defected with a MiG-25 in 1976 to Japan. He landed practically on fumes, missing another aircraft and overrunning the runway. While the Americans could only do ground tests on the thing and had to give it back to the USSR (they did so, in crates), they learned a massive amount about the "Foxbat", forced the cancellation of two Soviet aircraft carriers and forced the Reds With Rockets to completely revise their target classification systems.
  • In 1953, North Korean air force pilot No Kum-sok flew his MiG-15 across the North/South border and landed at an American air base in South Korea. After surrendering to the Americans, he was given a monetary reward for bringing a working MiG. He later immigrated to the United States and became a citizen. He wrote about his defection in the memoir A MiG-15 to Freedom. The plane itself is now at the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
  • Taiwan under the Kuomintang used to encourage mainland Chinese pilots to defect with monetary rewards. The practice ceased with the end of the Cold War and an infamous case where one of such defectors engaged in kidnapping and murder of a prominent official's son.
  • One of the most bizarre cases in the Cold War invoke the [[Soviet tanker Tuapse]], whose crew were captured and imprisoned by the Kuomintang regime, and were only offered freedom if the defected to the USA. Some defected and were declared traitors in the USSR, others resisted and were eventually returned to the USSR.
  • Nadia Comăneci, famous Romanian Olympic gymnast, defected to the US in 1989. A few weeks later, Romania had a revolution.
  • Martina Navrátilová, world famous tennis player. Defected in 1975 while in New York for the US Open.
  • Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun, better known by his Cold War pen name of "Viktor Suvorov", a former GRU agent who defected in 1978 and since then has written a number of controversial books on Soviet history and the Reds With Rockets. He was on the team for The Third World War: The Untold Story.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov, the ballet dancer and actor.
  • Rudolf Nureyev, a ballet dancer who managed to lose his KGB minders at Paris Le Bourget Airport. He became a highly prominent dancer and later choreographer in the West, before his death from AIDS in 1992.
  • A rather famous case once occurred in the DMZ between North and South Korea where a fairly important Soviet diplomat literally ran across the demarcation line asking for asylum with the NK guards shooting at him. He managed to make it and rather humiliated the Soviet Union with his actions.
  • Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Josef Stalin. She later returned to the USSR.
  • Viktor Korchnoi, one of the strongest chess player of the world in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Two-thirds of CSKA Moscow's Mogilny/Fedorov/Bure line defected to the US to play in the NHL, while Bure left after the fall of the Soviet Union.
  • In 1970, Yuri Bezmenov, a KGB agent stationed in India, decided to escape by disguising himself as an American hippie.note  It worked.
  • Colonel Oleg Gordievsky is the highest-ranking KGB agent to defect from the Soviet Union. He became a double agent in the 1970's and passed on information to MI6 while working for the Soviet embassy in Copenhagen and later in London. He was suddenly recalled back to Moscow in May 1985, where he was interrogated for hours on suspicion of espionage. He was released but knew he had tight counter-spy surveillance and felt it was only a matter of time before he'd incriminate himself and signaled the British for help - they were able to smuggle him out to Finland and eventually the UK. He now has a death sentence on him by the Soviet government which the Russian government hasn't rescinded.
  • In 1979, Peter Strelzyk and Guenter Wetzel were able to escape along with their families (eight people total) from Poessneck, Thuringia to Bavaria. How did they escape? With a homemade hot-air balloon. The two men had no experience with balloons, but were able to get a few science books for the basic function and were able to calculate how much cloth they needed (they claimed it was for a "camping club"). Their story is told in the film Night Crossing.
  • Sylvester Groth was an East German actor who defected while in Austria in 1986. He has since appeared in a number of American movies, played Joseph Goebbels twice and most recently was in Deutschland 83.
  • After the Soviet Union suppressed the Hungarian uprising, half of Hungary's delegation to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne did not return home.

Post-Cold War examples

  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this trope continues to be played straight by people who manage to get out of North Korea. One of the more famous North Korean defectors in recent years is Shin Dong-hyuk, whose experience is recounted in the book Escape from Camp 14. Even after they get out of North Korea, the struggles of North Korean defectors are not over. Another very dramatic North Korean example was captured on camera in December 2017 when Korean People's Army soldier Oh Chong-song crashed a jeep to try to make it across the border, ran across on foot, and was shot by four other KPA soldiers before South Korean and American troops were able to rescue him. One of the pursuing KPA soldiers actually briefly ran across the border to the South Korean side before realizing what he'd done and hastily running back to the North Korean side.
  • Several Cuban baseball players have defected from their home country in order to play professionally in the United States, something which picked up in The '90s following the end of the Cold War as Cuba's economy suffered greatly without Soviet help. Among the most well-known are Liván and his half-brother Orlando Hernández, Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Céspedes, and Yasiel Puig. Cuban soccer players have also been defecting with regularity after 2001.
  • In November 2019, an alleged Chinese spy named Wang Liqiang defected to Australia, and claimed he had been part of operations to disrupt and influence elections in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia as well as an operation to kidnap bookstore owners in Hong Kong for distributing materials damaging to the Chinese government. Despite analysts raising doubt due to Wang's limited English skills and past fraud allegations, Wang's testimony was so alarming to Taiwan that a month later, the Taiwanese legislature drafted and passed an "Anti-Infiltration Act" aimed at curbing foreign election influence (obviously targeted at China), which was then signed into law in January 2020 by the president.
  • In a rather unique twist, it is believed that a Beluga whale found in Norway was originally trained by the Russian Navy to spy on Western ports, but this one, after apparently losing it's camera, decided to simply loiter in Norway instead.