Despite his short reign, Yuri Andropov was remembered by the USSR population. For a little more than a year in his capacity as the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CC CPSU), Andropov managed to prepare and partially implement some reforms that boosted the country's economy. He is also one of the most mysterious Soviet rulers: many details of Andropov's biography remain unknown to this day.
Childhood and Adolescence
There are no reliable details of where and when the General Secretary was born. Most likely, Andropov spent his childhood and adolescence in the Stavropol Territory. Officially, he was born on June 2 (15), 1914, near the Nagutskaya railway station, now the village of Soluno-Dmitrievskoye, Stavropol Territory.
Vladimir Andropov, the father (according to other sources, stepfather) of the future General Secretary, worked as a railway telegraph operator. Yevgenia Fleckenstein, his mother, taught music at the women's gymnasium. According to Andropov, orphaned at an early age, his mother was brought up by a wealthy family of Finnish Jews who owned a jewellery store in Bolshaya Lubyanka, Moscow.
Vladimir Andropov died of typhus when little Yuri was barely 5 years old. After that, he and his mother went to Mozdok, where she married Viktor Fedorov in 1921. Yuri demonstrated good academic performance. He graduated from a seven-year factory school. Later he worked a lot as a telegraph operator, a film mechanic, and a sailor. Andropov lived in Mozdok until 1932 and then moved to the Yaroslavl Region, where, after studying at the Rybinsk River Technical School, he became the Komsomol leader (komsorg) at the shipyard.
The All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (VLKSM) was the start of Andropov's successful party career. It is believed that he was patronized by the famous politician Otto Kuusinen. Yuri Andropov began his work path in the Rybinsk City VLKSM Committee and then moved to the Yaroslavl VLKSM Committee. As early as in 1938, two years after graduating from the technical school, he became the First Secretary of the Yaroslavl VLKSM Committee. The young man remained in this position until 1940 and demonstrated excellent organizational skills. In particular, in 1939, he mobilized 7,000 people for the construction of the Rybinsk and Uglich hydroelectric power plants.
In the Karelo-Finnish SSR
In 1940, the bright Komsomol leader was sent to the Karelo-Finnish SSR, a republic formed through the accession of a part of Finland to the USSR as a result of the Winter War. Andropov was there when the Great Patriotic War began. He did not go off to the front because of poor health, Despite having diabetes mellitus, kidney disease and poor eyesight, he was engaged in organizing the partisan movement in the occupied areas and was in charge of supplies.
1940s Andropov began his party career. In 1944, he became the Second Secretary of the City Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks (AUCPB) in Petrozavodsk, and three years later — the Second Secretary of the Karelian Regional Committee. In this capacity, Andropov led the restoration of the republic's economy destroyed by the war. In parallel, he continued his studies. He was admitted to the correspondence department of the Higher Party School under the CPSU Central Committee. At the same time, he was a student of the History and Philology Department of the Karelian-Finnish State University in Petrozavodsk.
In the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Beginning of the 1950s Andropov, patronized by Otto Kuusinen, was sent to the capital to work in the AUCPB Central Committee. In this capacity, he supervised the party's branches in the Baltic republics, and, as part of a special commission, worked with the military personnel who participated in the Korean War. In 1953, Yuri Andropov was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). As part of his service with MFA, he oversaw the Eastern Europe foreign policy direction. Andropov joined the USSR Embassy in Hungary and was the USSR Ambassador to this country from 1954 to 1957.
As part of his diplomatic mission, Andropov survived the bloody Hungarian uprising of 1956. He saw with his own eyes rebels shooting communists and hanging state security workers on lampposts. According to some sources, there was an assassination attempt against the ambassador. Andropov presumingly insisted on bringing Soviet troops into Budapest. The events of October–November 1956 were a great moral jolt for Andropov, as well as a career turning point.
In 1957, Andropov was appointed the head of the CPSU Central Committee's Department for Relations with Communist Parties of Socialist Countries. He held this post for 10 years. During this time, he made numerous diplomatic trips, promoted ties with Eastern European parties, and supervised Sino-Soviet relations. In 1961, Andropov became a member of the CPSU Central Committee, and a year later was elected the Secretary of the Central Committee (1962–1967). Throughout this period, Andropov was in charge of the USSR's international policy. He developed the Foreign Policy Concept, which was later used by Leonid Brezhnev for expanding and strengthening ties between the USSR and the West.
On May 18, 1967, Andropov was once again promoted — this time to the position of the Chairman of the State Security Committee (KGB). He held this post for 15 years. In this capacity, he significantly increased the social and political weight of state security. The tasks of the KGB chaired by Andropov included both ensuring the external security of the country, and the internal protection of the state system and public security.
Foreign policy focused on establishing enormous control over all pro-Soviet governments. Andropov harshly suppressed all attempts by neighbouring countries to gain political independence from the USSR. Specifically, he was among those who initiated the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the Afghan war in 1979. Andropov also significantly increased the role of the KGB within the USSR. State security departments were opened at all large enterprises and organizations, with KGB officers controlling all significant career appointments, and supervising industry, science, education and culture.
Andropov was the one to resume the crackdown on dissent. At the same time, he was tough on bribe-takers and severely suppressed corruption among subordinates. However, the Chekists, even those holding lower ranks, significantly increased their power and influence on other public institutions.
Andropov's prominent accomplishment in his capacity as the Chairman of the KGB was the creation in 1974 of a special unit to combat terrorism — Directorate “A”, known in modern Russia as the Alpha Group. According to researchers, Andropov's decision was prompted by several attempts to hijack aircraft in the USSR, and a high-profile terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, when Palestinian terrorists killed members of the Israeli delegation. The Alpha Group brought together the experience of state security services, military, and intelligence officers in addressing the terrorist threat both inside the USSR and abroad. Later, in 1979, foreign operations were assigned to the Vympel Group.
General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
In the early 1980s, the country's political elite was concerned with the choice of the successor for Leonid Brezhnev. Supported by the General Secretary, Yuri Andropov was one of the candidates. In May 1982, he left the KGB and assumed the position of the Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, which became vacant after the death of Mikhail Suslov. This appointment was perceived by society as a signal that Andropov would be the successor.
In November 1982, Brezhnev died, and the Extraordinary Plenum elected Andropov the new General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. He officially became the head of state on June 16, 1983, when he assumed the post of the Chairman of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet. Andropov's ruling lasted for only 15 months, but these months were devoted to intensive work. Yuri Andropov implemented some significant reforms that stopped only with his death.
The new General Secretary faced the difficult task of gradually reforming public administration and strengthening the country's economy after the stagnant Brezhnev years. He began with a harsh fight against corruption and measures to strengthen labour discipline. Andropov dropped down on speculators and bribe-takers. Lawsuits were initiated against many senior managers in the trade sector, including the head of the Moscow Trade Department and directors of large metropolitan stores. In particular, according to the court verdict, in 1984, Yuri Sokolov, director of the famous Moscow grocery store “Eliseevskiy”, was shot for grand theft.
Andropov did not spare the ordinary employees either. He organized cinema raids in many cities when the militiamen were looking for truants among visitors of daytime sessions. The number of convicts on all counts, especially economic ones, increased sharply.
Purges and anti-corruption measures were also applied to the party, the bureaucratic apparatus, and the state security agencies, both in the centre and locally. Andropov dismissed 18 ministers and replaced 37 first secretaries of CPSU regional committees.
Yuri Andropov involved his supporters — Nikolai Ryzhkov and Mikhail Gorbachev — in preparations for the reforms. He created a special economic department within the CPSU Central Committee and invited economic experts to join. Researchers of this Soviet period believe that perestroika and Gorbachev's reforms were prepared during Andropov’s rule. The need to transform the principles of the national economy, promote private property and accelerate industrial and technological development had been talked about since the early 1980s, albeit not always out loud. The economic reforms project was highly classified but involved many people, including experts on the market economy.
Andropov gave enterprises more freedom in terms of economic planning, they were allowed to switch to a profit-and-loss basis and self-financing, and workers were given more rights. The Law on Labour Collectives enabled employees to participate in the negotiation of a collective agreement and even the distribution of salaries, however, in an advisory capacity.
Andropov widely supported scientific and technological progress, demanded labour automation and the use of computers in enterprises, called electronic computing machines (ECMs) back then.
Andropov's Foreign Policy
Andropov failed to change the country's foreign policy. Soviet-American relations worsened during his reign: the arms race continued, with both sides placing more and more missile systems in Europe. The confrontation was exacerbated after the Soviet air defence interceptor shot down South Korean passenger Boeing-747, which deviated from the course, ending up approaching the coast of Sakhalin, and was mistaken for an American spy. The incident resulted in 269 deaths and caused a wave of anti-Soviet protests in many countries. US President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire".
In the midst of rivalry with the United States and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, Andropov tried to chum in with China, which policy was previously harshly criticized by the USSR. The plan to build a strong alliance with the growing Eastern neighbour did not work out. The attempts, however, resulted in stronger trade and economic relations between the two countries.
Family and Personal Life
Andropov's personal life is shrouded in mystery. He was married twice. He met his first wife Nina Yengalycheva back in 1935 in Rybinsk. However, the relationship failed, and 5 years later, the couple broke up completely. They had two children, Eugeniya and Vladimir. Vladimir's life was a failure from a young age: he was engaged in theft, was imprisoned twice, became an alcohol addict and died at the age of 35 years. The tabooed topic for the General Secretary's family, this strongly discredited Andropov and was a threat to his KGB and political career.
With his second wife, Tatyana Lebedeva, Andropov had two more — Igor and Irina. Igor graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) with PhD in History and served as USSR Ambassador to Greece. Irina became a philologist and got married to actor Mikhail Filippov.
Death and Funeral
Yuri Andropov never had good health. He suffered from diabetes, gout and kidney disease. By the end of 1983, his condition dramatically worsened, and he almost never left his bed. Andropov died of severe renal failure on February 9, 1984.
On February 14, Andropov was buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. Despite the difficult foreign policy situation, the funeral of the head of state was attended by representatives of many countries, including US Vice President George Bush Sr. and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Yuri Andropov is remembered as an extraordinary politician. He successfully combined rigidity, fidelity to his principles, sophisticated intellect, deep knowledge of art, striving for economic reforms and progress, and tough conservatism. The Soviet society made jokes about Andropov's irreconcilable struggle with bribes and absenteeism. However, according to some sources, it was the measures taken by Andropov in his capacity as the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee that aid the foundations for the future perestroika transformations.