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Andropov, Yuri (Russia)

Reference work entry

Introduction

Yuri Andropov was general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and thus de facto head of state and government, from 1982 until 1984. Former head of the KGB, he achieved little of long-term effect during his tenure. Despite a reputation as a conservative, he oversaw the development of several reformers, most notably Mikhail Gorbachev.

Early Life

Yuri Vladimirovic Andropov was born on 15 June 1914 (30 May by the Orthodox calendar) in Nagutskoye, Russia. His father was officially described as a railway worker although he is widely held to have been a white collar station master. Andropov left school at 16 and held a series of jobs including film operator, telegraph operator and ferryman. He later undertook studies at a technical college and at Petrozavodsk University.

He joined the Young Communist League (Komsomol), becoming an organizer for the Yaroslav branch. In 1939 he became a member of the Communist Party and the following year he took over the leadership of Komsomol in the Karelo-Finnish Autonomous Republic (which had been recently ceded from Finland). During World War II he was active in the Russian underground movement.

He remained in the Karelo party apparatus until being called to Moscow in 1951 to work on the communist secretariat staff. Strongly associated with the Stalinist movement, he lost popularity after Stalin’s death in 1953 and was transferred to Budapest to work in the Soviet embassy. He was ambassador from 1954 until 1957, during which time he was instrumental in the 1956 Soviet invasion to suppress the Hungarian uprising.

In 1957 he returned to Moscow and headed the department of liaison between Moscow and the other Eastern Bloc regimes. Advocating a split with Chinese communism, in 1967 Andropov was named head of the KGB where he won a reputation for the ruthless suppression of political opposition, including the sectioning on mental health grounds and the enforced exile of critics. In 1973 he won full membership of the Politburo.

In 1982 Andropov resigned from the KGB and, with Leonid Brezhnev’s health declining, emerged as a leading contender (along with Brezhnev’s favourite Konstantin Chernenko) to become general secretary. Brezhnev died in Nov. 1982 and Andropov was selected to succeed him.

Career Peak

As well as party general secretary, Andropov became chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in June 1983 but his tenure was dogged by ill health. He had promised to increase the economic efficiency of the USSR but achieved little of lasting impact. In foreign policy he continued the war in Afghanistan which had begun in 1979. Relations with the US continued on a downward spiral as he attempted to block the deployment of US missiles in West Germany. In Sept. 1983 a major international diplomatic incident occurred when the USSR shot down a South Korean civilian jet which had strayed into Soviet military airspace, killing 269 people. Andropov made his last public appearance in Aug. 1983 and died on 9 Feb. 1984 from kidney failure.

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