Yuri Andropov, Part I
Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the overwhelming
favorite in Sunday''s election, has always said that his role model
is former KGB head and General Secretary of the Communist
Party, Yuri Andropov. I have read a lot about Putin since he was
named by Boris Yeltsin to, first, become prime minister this past
August, and then in December to succeed Yeltsin himself as
president. I''m now refreshing my memory on Andropov as well.
I don''t think the West wants to see another like him. But that''s
where we''re headed.
Andropov was responsible for massive acts of repression while at
the KGB, spearheading campaigns at home and abroad. Yet
recently, Putin had a plaque commemorating Andropov as well as
a monument restored to the headquarters of the FSB, the
successor organization to the KGB. This is also the same Putin
who not so long ago raised a toast on Stalin''s birthday. It is all
rather troubling and it''s worthwhile at this point to review the
career of Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov.
Andropov was born in 1914. Rising through the ranks of the
Communist Party, by 1956 he found himself at the forefront of a
defining moment in Soviet history, the attempt by the Hungarian
Communist Party to adopt a communism with a kinder face.
Joseph Stalin had died in March 1953, bringing on the period of
de-Stalinization under the regime of Nikita Khrushchev. As
ambassador to Hungary, Yuri Andropov began to warn Moscow
that the Hungarian Communist Party, in adopting a reform
agenda, had exacerbated internal tensions in the country. By
September 1956, Yuri''s dispatches became increasingly alarmist.
An anti-Communist movement was taking shape and he feared
the eventual disintegration of the Party.
That fall, Andropov "watched in horror from the windows of his
embassy as officers of the hated Hungarian security service were
strung up from lampposts. He was haunted by the speed at which
an all-powerful Communist one-party state had begun to topple."
From this experience he was to become convinced later on that
only armed force could ensure the survival of coming incidents in
Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan and Poland.
In October, angry crowds smashed Stalinist statues and shouted
demands for democratization as well as the withdrawal of Soviet
troops. It was Andropov who convinced an at first reluctant
Khrushchev to launch an invasion. On November 4 the Soviet
army took control and viciously suppressed the rebellion.
An associate later described Andropov during this time. "He was
so calm - even when bullets were flying, when everyone else at
the embassy felt like we were in a besieged fortress."
The Hungarian Communist Party chief at the time of the
revolution was Imre Nagy, a reformist. Andropov was to
demonstrate his mastery of deception at an early point in his
career when he successfully persuaded Nagy that the Red Army
was going to withdraw while, in fact, the invasion was being
launched and Nagy''s demise was imminent. When the Hungarian
army commander phoned the Prime Minister''s office early on
November 4 to report the Soviet attack, Nagy told him,
"Ambassador Andropov is with me and assures me there''s been
some mistake and the Soviet government did not order an attack
on Hungary. The Ambassador and I are trying to call Moscow."
With the revolt crushed, Andropov led the assault against the
Hungarian Communist party reformers. He had 2,000 shot
(including Nagy) in the aftermath of the crackdown and Yuri and
Nikita''s hand-picked leader, Janos Kadar, took over.
A new order was established in Hungary, "Goulash communism."
It was an intelligent economic experimentation. Well fed citizens
would not dream of liberty. By introducing limited market
mechanisms into a system still controlled by the state, enterprise
was encouraged, particularly in agriculture, by relaxing controls
on compulsory deliveries and land ownership. [By the mid-60s,
Hungary''s prosperity was leading people to forget its political
misery. That was also my personal experience when I visited
there in 1973 as a 15-year-old.]
Andropov left Hungary in 1957 and moved to Moscow where he
was selected to be responsible for the relations with the
Communist parties in the Soviet Bloc as a member of the Central
Committee. By 1967, he became the first senior Party official to
head the KGB. General Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev wished
for Andropov to secure political control of the security and
intelligence systems. Yuri was to lead the KGB for 15 years, by
far the longest reign of any KGB boss. And as Brezhnev
recognized, he was also far and away the most politically astute.
Andropov immediately became Brezhnev''s sycophant. He once
described a speech by the Party boss as "a new creative
contribution to the theory of Marxism-Leninism," that it
"brilliantly reveals the paths and prospects of communist
construction in the USSR and inspires new heroic feats of labour
in the name of strengthening our multinational state, the unity and
solidarity of the Soviet people." ["Russia: A History"]
But while Andropov fawned over Brezhnev, he was also careful
not to criticize him, even in private discussions with senior KGB
officers. Yuri was well aware of Leonid''s intellectual limitations
and later, declining health, and set out to establish himself as heir
Soon after his appointment as KGB chief, Andropov issued a
report in which he declared that the KGB must be in a position to
influence the outcome of international crises in a way that it had
failed to do during the Cuban Missile crisis five years earlier. He
immediately began to take an active role in Soviet foreign policy
and military issues, relying on the KGB''s broad sources of
Andropov also announced that "special actions" were an essential
tool of Soviet policy during the Cold War. "(We) must take the
offensive in order to paralyze the actions of our enemies and to
get them involved in a struggle in conditions which are
unfavorable to them."
Next week, Part II. The "Prague Spring" and repression of
**In researching for this series, I came across a quote from David
Remnick''s Pulitzer prize-winning "Lenin''s Tomb" that certainly
pertains to today. Remnick''s book is on the fall of the Soviet
Empire and was written in 1992.
"Under Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko, the regime floated
on an immense sea of oil profits. At the height of the world
energy crisis and its aftermath, the state plundered its vast oil
reserves, giving Moscow the cash it needed to fund the vast
military-industrial complex. The rest of the economy was a
wreck and ran on principles of magic and graft, but so long as
world crude prices remained high, it hardly mattered to the
See any parallels? I do, especially since Putin announced just this
past Tuesday that Moscow was going to build up its military-
industrial complex in a big way to help jump-start the economy.
And rising oil revenues will pay for it.
Sources: "The Sword and the Shield," Christopher Andrew and
"In Confidence," Anatoly Dobrynin
"Lenin''s Tomb," David Remnick
"Russia: A History," Gregory Freeze
"Europe: A History," Norman Davies
"Diplomacy," Henry Kissinger
*All quotes are from "The Sword and the Shield" unless