Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) ruled the country for only 15 months.
Before that, for 15 years he had been heading the agency
which many came to fear and despise - the KGB.
And still, the recent poll shows that Andropov is recognized
as the most popular Soviet leader.
Andropov's career in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs
was distinguished and certainly helped his rise to the highest
levels of the Party. He was regarded by most as intelligent,
wise, and skillful, obviously a substantial cut above his Party
peers, and with an impeccable Party record. In 1967, as he turned
53, he was made head of the Committee for State Security, known
throughout the world by its acronym - KGB. This promotion and
his great success in making the KGB the most famous and feared,
most notorious and effective internal control apparatus and
global intelligence operation on earth, made Andropov's rise
to the absolute pinnacle of Soviet power virtually inevitable.
Many in the West were surprised by Yuri Andropov's rapid
seizure of power in the Soviet Union following Leonid Brezhnev's
death in November 1982. Speculation had been widespread among
Western pundits and analysts during the preceding several months
that the successor would be another of the Politburo members
such as Konstantin Chernenko, Brezhnev's apparent favorite,
or Andrei Gromyko, the longtime Foreign Minister so well known
in the West. Andropov, head of the KGB until June 1982, was
given little chance, because other Politburo members would not,
could not support the idea of turning so much power over to
the recent head of the feared KGB.
But it was not primarily Andropov's position as KGB
chief that enabled him to gain the top position in the Politburo.
He had already moved into a position of strength in the Politburo
following the death of Mikhail Suslov in January 1982. Suslov,
senior Party ideologue and intellectual, had been the power
behind the throne of both Brezhnev and Khrushchev. Yuri Andropov
succeeded him. For Andropov, this was the climax of a pattern
throughout his rise - a pattern woven from the support of
important and influential friends at each stage of his career,
from his own intellectual strength, from years of careful
and clever maneuvering.
The scenario for the Politburo "election"
had apparently been worked out in advance, and when the successor
to Brezhnev was to be named, went something like this: Chemenko,
who was supposed to be the heir apparent, and as senior Party
Secretary present, stunned the group by nominating Yuri Andropov.
After some muttering but no real discussion, Chemenko then
asked the standard question, "Has
anyone anything to say against this candidate?"
Not only stunned, but also fearful from the evidence
that something was going on about which they knew nothing,
the other Politburo members kept quiet. No one wished to criticize
before the others the man who not only had been chief of the
secret police for fifteen years, but also now appeared likely
to become their new boss. Nothing was said. Chernenko then
observed, "It seems to be unanimous
that Yuri Alexanderovich Andropov is our new General Secretary."
And it was, though neither an accident, nor should it have
been as much of a surprise as it appears to have been.
After the inauguration, Andropov took a tough course
to rule the country. He had to fight both with negligent officials,
which were corrupted with power, as well as with Soviet people,
which were corrupted with laziness, irresponsibility, and
drunkenness. He wanted to retrieve law and order in the Soviet
empire with the help of tough police campaigns. He was a policeman
in his nature and skills. His actions were always in compliance
with his thoughts. Andropov arranged a grand cleansing process
amid top officials of the Soviet government. More than one-third
of senior officials were dismissed from their positions both
in the Central Committee of the Communist Party and in the
Council of Ministers. Andropov reached out to USSR-s regions
too: 47 of 150 regional high-ranking officials were fired.
Andropov may feel that stronger measures are required. All
these does not come as any great surprise to the long-suffering
Soviet people. In fact, knowing Andropov's record as KGB chief,
they tend to expect the worst.
Without question, Andropov was the toughest, most clever
and shrewd Soviet politician since Stalin, and possibly of
all Soviet leaders. He was not likely to be easily fooled,
and only a fool would fool with him. His could only be a one-man
Much of Andropov's unease comes over concern for the
great power held by the Soviet military establishment. Khrushchev
had needed the strong support of war hero Marshal George Zhukov
to overcome Party and other resistance to his ambitions. Andropov's
fifteen years as KGB head could not but have made him acutely
aware of the chronic hostility the military has for the secret
police. Accordingly, shortly after the Politburo election,
Andropov made a speech to the senior military officers. It
must have sounded almost too good to be true to the assembled
marshals, generals, and admirals. In effect, Andropov told
them precisely what they wanted to hear: We will see that
you get the best weapons and other armaments. The troops,
especially the field grade and senior officers, will receive
even higher pay. The Soviet budget can and will sustain all
that is necessary to guarantee that the Soviet military establishment
will be superior to any in the world. Furthermore, there is
a long-range cruise missile now under test that will be superior
to anything the Americans have.
Such a speech, whether or not Andropov was bluffing
or lying, was bound to bring his audience to their feet, cheering
and slapping each other on the back, congratulating themselves
on their new leader. But Andropov apparently was not bluffing
about the new cruise missile. It should be realized that some
of the weapons research for the Soviet military is carried
out at KGB installations such as the closed city of Dubna,
a short distance north of Moscow. Dubna is an unusual place-a
heavily guarded city which few of the top-level research physicists
and other scientists working there are ever allowed to leave.
All work at the center is carefully overseen by KGB experts
working side by side with their civilian counterparts. It
does seem more than a little unusual, however, that senior
military commanders could be unaware of the development of
an important new weapon. But stranger things than that continue
to take place in the secretive Soviet system.
Former KGB agent-s information about his former boss
was revealed in European and American newspapers in the summer
of 1982. That information created a conception of Andropov
as of a pro-Western person. Andropov was known for his perfect
English. He was a fan of jazz, American mystery books and
whiskey; A patron of arts as he was presented by the KGB propaganda
machine; An intellectual and a poet as he remained in the
memories of his employees.
But he was also a suppressor of the 1956 Budapest uprising,
a persecutor of dissidents and an inventor of punitive psychiatry
as he has recently been described. It was also during Andropov's
time as Soviet leader that Soviet forces shot down a civilian,
South Korean airliner, killing all 269 people on board.
Although he was a hardliner, Andropov was responsible
for the rise to power of a group of younger, more liberal
officials, including Michael Gorbachev. Scholars
still debate whether Andropov would have proved to be a real
reformer had he lived.
Soviet Poster - "Peace"
in Russian and English.
In 1983, at the height of the Cold War nuclear arms race, Samantha
Smith, a ten-year-old girl from the small town of Manchester,
Maine, wrote a letter to former Soviet president Yuri Andropov
pleading for a peaceful resolution to US-Soviet tensions. Samanthas
story became an international headline and more importantly,
powerful propaganda that marked the beginning of the denouement
of the Cold War.
Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old.
Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about
Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are
you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren't please
tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question
you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you
want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made
the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
Little did Samantha realize the tremendous impact the
letter would have on her future. After she had written it, her
life went on as before. She continued with her studies at Manchester
Elementary School in Manchester, Maine, where she was a fifth
A few months later, Samantha received a letter from Mr. Andropov.
Samantha couldn't believe it. Until then, she wasn't sure that
President Andropov had even received her letter!
Mr. Andropov's letter to Samantha was more than two pages
long. In it, he compared Samantha to the fictional character
in Mark Twain's famous novel Tom Sawyer. He called Samantha
"courageous and honest,"
telling her that the Soviet Union was "trying
to do everything so that there will not be war between our countries."
When asked by reporters what she thought of Andropov's response
she said it read like "a letter
from a friend." But that wasn't what really
excited Samantha. At the close of his letter, Andropov invited
Samantha to visit the Soviet Union to see for herself what the
people and the country were like.
Samantha and her parents decided to accept Mr. Andropov's
invitation. She toured the country; met with the first woman
in space, Valentina Tereshkova; met with the U.S. ambassador;
and attended the Soviet youth camp Artek, on the Black Sea.
People in both the Soviet Union and the United States watched
Samantha on TV. Samantha won their hearts. She was friendly
and cheerful, a beautiful child with a big smile. Staying in
a dormitory with nine other girls, Samantha spent her time swimming,
talking, and learning Russian songs and dances. She found that
many of her new friends were also concerned about peace. Later
Samantha wrote a book about her trip. On the first page she
wrote, "I dedicate this book to
the children of the world. They know that peace is always possible."
Gradually, Samantha Smith came to be recognized as a
world-wide representative for peace. Tragically, in August 1985,
however, Samantha and her father were killed in an airplane
crash. The little girl who believed that "people can get
along" was gone. She was thirteen years old. But Samantha
will not be forgotten. The Soviet government issued a stamp
in her honor, and also named a diamond, a flower, a mountain,
and a planet after her. Samantha's home state of Maine also
paid tribute to the diminutive ambassador. A life-size statue
of Samantha releasing a dove with a bear cub at her side (the
bear is a symbol for both Maine and Russia) was dedicated near
the Maine state capitol in Augusta.
"The Andropov Hoax", about
Samantha Smith. About
the Samantha Smith Foundation. (in English).