Andropov, Yuri (1914–1984)

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ANDROPOV, YURI (1914–1984)


Leader of the Soviet Union from 1982 to 1984.

Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov has entered history for three main reasons. The first concerns his duplicitous behavior as Soviet ambassador to Hungary during the uprising of 1956; the second his role in modernizing the Committee for State Security (KGB); and the third is associated with his brief tenure as leader of the Soviet Union between November 1982 and February 1984 when he launched a program of authoritarian modernization. These three phases of his public activity reflect facets of the man.

Andropov was born into the family of a railway worker in the Cossack village of Nagutskaya in the Stavropol region, although the family itself was not Cossack. He lost his parents early and was looked after by his stepfather. He went to school in Mozdok and then took on a number of jobs, including working on a barge on the Volga. At age eighteen he entered the Rybinsk Water Transport College. Rybinsk, a town in the Yaroslavl region, was renamed after him in 1984, although not for long. With the Great Terror in the mid-1930s thinning out political cadres, Andropov did not work in his specialty but began his political career as Komsomol boss in one of Rybinsk's major enterprises, from which he swiftly graduated to the post of first secretary of the Yaroslavl Komsomol organization by the age of twenty-four in 1938. While still in Rybinsk he married his first wife, Nina Engalycheva, with whom he had a son and daughter before they divorced after five years of marriage. He joined the Communist Party in 1939.

In 1940 Andropov was sent to the Karelo-Finnish republic as head of the newly formed region's Komsomol organization. It was while in the region's capital, Petrozavodsk, that he married for a second time, Tatyana Filippovna, with whom he had another son and daughter. With the onset of war he headed partisan activity in the occupied parts of the republic while remaining head of the Komsomol in the rest, and at this time he appears to have worked closely with the security services. In 1944 Andropov shifted over to party work, becoming second secretary of the Petrozavodsk party organization. At the same time he studied at Petrozavodsk State University and the Higher Party School in Moscow. By 1947 the thirty-three-year-old Andropov was second secretary of the republic's party organization. The chair of the Presidium of the Republic's Supreme Soviet at this time was the veteran communist Otto Kuusinen, one of the founders of the Finnish Communist Party and secretary to the Comintern's Executive Committee. Kuusinen was to exert enormous influence on Andropov's intellectual development and acted as a patron later.

In the early 1950s Andropov worked as an inspector and then head of a section in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's (CPSU) Central Committee in Moscow and for a brief period in 1953 worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dealing with communist countries before being sent to work in the Soviet embassy in Hungary, becoming ambassador in 1954. He was ruthless in suppressing the revolution in 1956 and went back on promises for safe passage for the ousted prime minister, Imre Nagy, after he had sought asylum in the Yugoslav embassy. Nagy was executed in 1958. Andropov was by no means the driving force of Soviet policy in this crisis, with Nikita Khrushchev directly following events and his envoys, Anastas Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov, in Budapest. Andropov's tactical sophistication was apparent in ensuring that repression was balanced by concessions, and he prevented the full restoration of the Stalinist system by placing the relative moderate János Kádár as the new leader of the party. In due course Kádár came to head one of the more reformist communist systems known as "goulash communism."

Having handled the Hungarian crisis to Moscow's satisfaction, in 1957 Andropov was appointed head of the CPSU Central Committee's new department for relations with communist and workers' parties of socialist countries. The aim was to ensure that there would be no repetition of Hungarian events and to act as the successor to the Comintern and Cominform in organizing the world communist movement. He was elected a member of the Central Committee in 1961 and was a secretary of the Central Committee between 1962 and 1967. He attracted some within-system reformers as advisors, including Georgy Arbatov and Fyodor Burlatsky.

In 1967 he left the party apparatus to head the KGB, possibly as part of the attempt by conservatives like Suslov to ensure that Andropov would be disqualified from becoming party leader; there was an implicit rule that the head of the security services could not become general secretary of the party. As compensation he was made a candidate member of the Politburo at this time and a full member in 1973. Before his appointment the KGB had been involved in some scandalous show trials of dissidents—notably those of Joseph Brodsky in 1964 and Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky in 1966—that had discredited the Soviet Union. Andropov's appointment was intended to ensure a rather more sophisticated approach to repression, which he delivered. He recruited more educated staff and transformed the image of the KGB into the incorruptible shield of the revolution amid the sea of late Brezhnevite corruption. It was this image that attracted the young Vladimir Putin to the KGB's service in 1975. By the skillful use of sanctions, heightened surveillance of those whom he considered "system destroyers," the abuse of psychiatry, and, in the case of Andrei Sakharov, internal exile, he effectively extinguished dissent as a coherent political force and thus destroyed precisely the class of people who could have acted as the bedrock of democratization later. He was not averse to the use of assassination abroad, as with the killing of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London and alleged involvement in the attempted murder of Pope John Paul II in 1981.

On Suslov's death in February 1982 Andropov immediately left the KGB to replace him as the Central Committee secretary responsible for ideology. This provided the launch pad for his successful bid to replace Leonid Brezhnev as head of the party on the latter's death in November 1982. Andropov's speeches as leader signaled a degree of greater ideological flexibility and awareness of the problems facing the country, but his fundamental response was greater discipline, an anti-alcohol campaign, and some progressive personnel changes that bought Yegor Ligachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov into the Secretariat. In foreign policy he sought to use Western peace protesters to prevent the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Germany. As the architect of what some call the Second Cold War from 1979, relations with the West became as bad as at the height of the Cold War and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, symbolized by the shooting down of South Korean flight KAL 007 on 1 September 1983. Andropov by then was ailing, kept alive by a dialysis machine. He recognized Mikhail Gorbachev's talents and clearly wished him to be his successor, an ambition that was fulfilled only after Konstantin Chernenko's brief leadership between February 1984 and March 1985. Andropov was an intelligent and relatively flexible leader, untainted personally by the corruption that swirled around him, but his tragedy was that his very success in defending the Soviet system from external threats and internal dissent destroyed the very sources of renewal that might have allowed the system to survive.

See alsoBrezhnev, Leonid; Gorbachev, Mikhail; Soviet Union.


Primary Sources

Andropov, Yuri V. Speeches and Writings. 2nd enl. ed. Oxford, U.K., 1983.

Secondary Sources

Beichman, Arnold, and Mikhail S. Bernstam. Andropov: New Challenge to the West. New York, 1983.

Besançon, Alain. "Andropov and His Soviet Union." Policy Review 25, no. 1 (summer 1983): 21–23.

Brown, Archie. "Andropov: Discipline and Reform." Problems of Communism 32, no. 1 (January–February 1983): 18–31.

Ebon, Martin. The Andropov File. London, 1983.

Elliot, Iain. "Andropov Scrutinized." Survey 28, no. 1

(spring 1984): 61–67.

Heller, M. "Andropov: A Retrospective View." Survey 28, no. 1 (spring 1984): 46–60.

Medvedev, Roi. Neizvestnyi Andropov. Moscow, 1999.

Medvedev, Zhores. Andropov: His Life and Death. Oxford, U.K., 1984.

Steele, Jonathan, and Eric Abraham. Andropov in Power.

Oxford, U.K., 1983.

Sturman, D. "Chernenko and Andropov: Ideological Perspectives." Survey 28, no. 1 (spring 1984): 9–21.

Richard Sakwa