Andropov, Yuri Vladimirovich

   The most important post-Stalin chief of the KGB, Andropov rose quickly in the ranks of the Communist Party during the years of purges. During World War II, he worked with partisans on the Finnish front and continued his rise in the party apparatus. In 1954 Andropov was appointed Soviet ambassador to Hungary and cleverly managed his embassy during the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Andropov, according to both Soviet and Hungarian sources, manipulated Hungarian revolutionary leaders, repeatedly deceiving them as to Moscow’s intentions. The Hungarian revolution had a profound effect on the rest of his life: Andropov’s wife suffered a nervous breakdown after the fighting, from which she apparently never fully recovered. The violence and its impact on his personal life appar-ently convinced Andropov that Moscow had to be especially vigilant about intellectual dissent.
   The Soviet leadership gave Andropov high marks for his role in defeating the Hungarian revolution, and he was promoted to chief of the Central Committee’s Department for Liaison with Socialist States. During the Khrushchev years, Andropov had a public reputation as a liberal and an anti-Stalinist. He cultivated close relations with Hungarian communist party chief Janos Kadar, whom he had helped install in 1956. Andropov was admired by members of his staff as an open and cultured man who accepted some measure of ideological diversity within the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc. In 1967 he was picked to head the KGB by Leonid Brezhnev, to replace Vladimir Semichastniy, and Andropov quickly took on the persona of a Chekist.
   Under Andropov’s 15-year tutelage, the KGB’s foreign and domestic missions expanded: his enemies were ideological dissent and corruption, both of which he insisted were to be prosecuted fiercely. He pushed the establishment of the Fifth Directorate within the KGB with responsibility for “counterintelligence among the intelligentsia.” The new component intensified surveillance of dissidents and took an active role in persecuting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, the latter of whom he referred to as “public enemy number one.” Andropov repeatedly warned the Politburo of the threat of dissent. In January 1974, he urged Solzhenitsyn’s immediate deportation, because The Gulag Archipelago “is not a work of creative literature, but a political document. This is dangerous. We have in this country hundreds of thousands of hostile elements.” Andropov also expanded the role of the KGB in combating corruption within the economy and the police. KGB officials brought thousands of cases against men and women for “specially dangerous state crimes,” sending many to their deaths. Yet the KGB was forbidden by Brezhnev from inspecting corruption within the provincial or national leadership of the Communist Party. Andropov apparently covertly kept a record of leading malefactors in the leadership, which he would later use to purge the party.
   As a manager of foreign intelligence, he left much of the work in the hands of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. He selected Vladimir Kryuchkov to head the component, an appointment that many intelligence officers thought was disastrous. According to a KGB general, at one briefing on foreign intelligence, Andropov’s sole criticism was on the cleanliness of the facilities. Andropov, according to reports from defectors and published documents, increasingly adopted a more conservative and neo-Stalinist ideology during the 1970s and 1980s, blaming the West and Western intelligence services for much of what was wrong with the Soviet Union. Under the RYaN program, he pushed for evidence of an American surprise nuclear attack, prompting a major crisis in 1983. Nevertheless, under his leadership the foreign intelligence component expanded, becoming a worldwide intelligence service.
   In 1981–1982, Andropov used the KGB to discredit Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, who was in physical and mental decline. Articles were planted in the foreign press citing Brezhnev’s senility and corruption within his family. The campaign worked, weakening Brezhnev’s control. In the spring of 1982, Andropov was appointed to the secretariat of the Central Committee as Brezhnev’s de facto successor. In November 1982, following Brezhnev’s death, he reached the pinnacle of political power as the Communist Party general secretary.
   Andropov sought to reform the Soviet Union, prosecuting dissidents and corrupt leaders with tremendous ferocity. In the wake of threatened exposure and arrest, the head of the Soviet police and his wife committed suicide, and many senior leaders found themselves retired, in disgrace, or in jail. Andropov used the KGB to break the Uzbek Cotton Scandal, the largest criminal case in Soviet history, but Soviet society by 1984 was not to be motivated or frightened into change. Andropov was a complex figure. He did not enjoy the physical destruction of enemies like Lavrenty Beria. In 1973 he visited the dissident Leonid Krasin in prison and promised him a light sentence if he would cooperate. Andropov sought to promote younger and more idealistic cadres in the Communist Party and the KGB. He was a good judge of talent, raising Mikhail Gorbachev from the provinces to the Politburo. Andropov died of kidney disease after only 14 months as national and party leader, and within a year power passed to Gorbachev.
   To Russian intelligence and security officers, Andropov was a modern Feliks Dzerzhinsky—an honest, hard-working, and party-minded bureaucrat. Vladimir Putin, a veteran of Andropov’s KGB, put flowers on Andropov’s bust at the Lubyanka security service headquarters the day he became president. Nevertheless, Andropov failed dramatically as both a security professional and a party and state leader: the KGB could neither scare nor reform Russia into the modern world.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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