He has been picked for his KGB cunningness in the field of international relations. If you are interested I have found a nice long essay on the bloke which you might like to read if you're bored.Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov was the first head of the Committee of State Security (KGB) who rose to the top of the Soviet Union. He did this against odds and succeeded where others before him had failed. Differing circumstances and times as well as using the KGB to its maximum allowed Andropov to succeed where others had failed before him. This site's purpose is not to examine Andropov's policies or to predict what would have happened had he lived. Suffice it to say that some of his clients included Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze and Haydar Aliyev. Rather, this site will explore how much his position in the KGB actually helped him to rise to the top and understand why he succeeded where others, notably Lavrenty Beria and Alexander Shelepin, had failed before him in making the cross from the Lubyanka building, the headquarters of the KGB, to the Kremlin. On the section of his position in the KGB, other factors which might have helped him (or acted against him) will be discussed. The site will conclude with a glance some of the implications of his rule for today.
On November 12, 1982, while nominating Andropov for Leonid I. Brezhnev's position, Konstantin Chernenko (and Andropov's main rival) said, "'There is no need, I think, to recount his biography. Yuri . . . is well-known to the Party and the country. . . '" . On the contrary, Andropov was not really known. His accession to the top had been shocking to the west who were caught off-guard because for a long-time, "his chances as a political heir were rated no more highly than those of the 'second-class' members . . .: in particular, the minoritaries, such as the Kazakh Kunayev, or the Latvian Pelshe" mainly because he was from the KGB which made him an oddity for most of the top partocrats.
Andropov's rise to the top is surprising if one bears in mind that he did not have a power base. Furthermore, he did not really have a patron which should be bearen in mind with the fact that Chernenko was Brezhnev's protégé. Although, many names have been put forward as Andropov's patron, it seems that he was more of a loner. This situation turned out to be beneficial for him as he was not seen as a rival and instead coveted by the sides. Mikhail Suslov, chief party ideologue, is usually put forward as his patron (see Ebon; Medvedev; and Beichman and Bernstam) and while it is true that Suslov was impressed by his work in Hungary, his character, and helped him out initially, Suslov's greatest assistance to Andropov was his death which enabled Andropov to take over his position (at Party Secretariat). There were numerous factors arising from his background which put him at a disadvantage. One such factor was his education (or more correctly, his lack of it): he had enrolled at the Rybinsk Water Transport Technical College "(the lowest level of vocational school in the USSR)". At Rybinsk, he was a river boatman, "a position at the very bottom of the Soviet social structure". Although, it is claimed that his father was a railway worker, "his father was the stationmaster at the Nagutskaya Station in the Stravopol region, a white-collar government employee" and his mother was a piano teacher. This is probably a good time to mention the confusion that the literature was in 1983 when many books were published about him. Although, this is not the place to classify these books into groups, it can be basically said that some of them were optimistic while others depicted him as a Stalin. Most of their data and interpretations do not match.
It has been suggested that he had Jewish ancestry (but there are also reports that he had Greek ancestry). Such rumors were not beneficial to him. However, his actions vis-à-vis other nationalities, e.g. Jews and Crimean Tatars, as well as his 'amicable' relations with Russian chauvinists, including the Russian Party (In the summer of 1968, neo-Stalinists in the armed forces, the civilian national chauvinists, and the secret police "having realized their inner kinship, realized the necessity for a practical alliance" and established the Russian Party, and other characters, such as Aliyev and Shevardnadze confirm that he did not 'feel' anything for the various nationalities. His official biography does not indicate his nationality which is strange as other official biographies (e.g. of Brezhnev, of Chernenko or of Gorbachev) mention it. This indicates that he believed that he had something to hide. More importantly, this also shows he was aware of his limitations and deliberately hid them.
Yet, he was "masterful at conveying the impression of being sincere and natural" and had "hypnotizing" effects as reported by Major-General Bela Kiraly, head of the Revolutionary Military Forces at the time of the Hungarian uprising (during which Andropov was the Soviet ambassador). These personality assets could have played the decisive role in him obtaining the KGB position initially from Brezhnev. However, personality does not give a person the chance to rule a country.
Not free within KGB
Andropov might have been the head of the KGB but he was not entirely free in the running of the KGB: the spy-master was also being spied upon, not least by Brezhnev's people. Deputy chairman of the USSR KGB Semyon Tsvigun, son-in-law of Brezhnev, was one such individual (Knight, Police 81). Incidentally, Tsvigun committed suicide under 'mysterious' conditions in January 1982. Others also commanded some amount of authority within the KGB, e.g. it is likely that Chernenko had "cultivated his own ties with KGB personnel" as a result of being Brezhnev's protégé and his service in the NKVD Border Guards in the 1930s.
Much has been made of his military connections and the detrimental role, their support played. It is actually easier to demonstrate that the military establishment disliked Chernenko than that they liked Andropov. The military clearly objected to Chernenko; he had no authority amongst the military establishment. They had worked with Andropov in the past, and even if they did not like him (of which there is no indication), they respected him. They had worked with him at Afghanistan and seem to have 'liked' him enough to place the debacle on the shoulders of Brezhnev. Basically, in a contest between Andropov and Chernenko, their support was for Andropov. However, one point must be mentioned here: the army's role in Soviet politics has never been extremely important. Thus, the importance of the military cannot be overly exaggerated.
Chernenko vs. Andropov
Chernenko had risen to fame because of his relations with Brezhnev but that was also his main problem: he was seen as "Brezhnev's ghost" and it was believed that he promised more stagnation. The military had initially supported Brezhnev but by 1979, they had enough and Chernenko's image as a lackey of Brezhnev was definitely a hindrance. "Thus despite a certain apprehension at the thought of being ruled by the former head of the KGB, there was a certain relief when Andropov was elected as General Secretary". Andrei Kirilenko would have been a harder adversary for Andropov to beat but by allowing Chernenko and him to battle it out initially and watching from the sidelines, Andropov was able to accumulate more power; Kirilenko's chances ended when a relative defected to England. The Economist wrote that Andropov beat Chernenko in the race for Brezhnev's position because he had greater political experience to offer and had created an independent constituency which Chernenko lacked. A comparison of their CVs gives credibility to this view: Andropov's CV includes being an organizer for local Komsomol at Rybinsk, head of the Komsomol in the Karelo-Finnish republic, the ambassador to Hungary during the Uprising in 1956, head of the CC Department for Liaison with Socialist Countries, and the chairman of the KGB. Chernenko's CV is less glorious and includes being secretary of the Krasnoryarsk Territory Party Committee and the Penza Region Committee, the head of agitation and propaganda in Moldavia, and finally Secretary in charge of General Department. However, this view is only partly true: Yes, Andropov had been in the Politburo slightly longer; Yes, through the positions he had occupied, he was more qualified to rule the country; and Yes, his 'constituency' was not the product of another person's work. However, this is also a typical example of journalistic simplification of matters: based on these qualifications other people should have been chosen; he also did not really have a constituency but shared interests with others; and the significance of the KGB is neglected.
KGB factor cannot be ignored
Yet, the importance of the KGB must not be underestimated. It is true that Andropov had police dossiers on everybody at his disposal but he was more sophisticated than just relying on these dossiers. He used the KGB in a campaign against corruption which was directed at all but mostly towards his rivals, e.g. Brezhnevities (or Dnepropetrovsk Mafia). Initially, he did not directly hit at the leaders in Kremlin but rather indirectly through their clients and their relatives. He also did not start from Moscow but from Georgia and Azerbeycan where his clients were keeping themselves busy by attacking corruption (and especially targeting that of Brezhnev's cronies). Striking at Brezhnev was not hard: all of his deeds were in the open. His family made him an easy target, e.g., diamond scandal involving his daughter.
Andropov seems to have grasped the importance of the media and again his position at the top of the KGB was useful. He, especially, used the western media to hit Brezhnev's men. Brezhnev learnt about the scandals in the various parts of the USSR through Western newspapers. Andropov even used the media to help his clients out, e.g., first secretary Gorbachev's counterpart and neighbor Medunov (who happened to be Brezhnev's man) in Krasnodarsky Territory had his name on newspapers next to corruption charges. However, it should be borne in mind that Andropov was just doing his job (and enjoying it at the same time). Only late in the game did he start directly striking at potential candidates for Brezhnev's position such as Grigori Romanov, the Party boss of Leningrad. Romanov's name was used to discredit him. His daughter's wedding reception ended his chances: the ancient Russian custom of dashing a teacup to the floor was started by a KGB official. The only snag was that the dinner service was taken from Leningrad Museum and had been made for Empress Catherine II; Romanov was innocent but that did not matter for Andropov who made sure that the press and Kremlin learnt about the event.
The Soviet media also started to treat Brezhnev more realistically: he was shown as the senile old man that he was. "The TV cameras no longer hid anything. To the contrary, it even seemed that, as if correcting the former varnished image of Brezhnev, the cameramen were now choosing frames that compromised him", e.g. speeches at India and Azerbeycan. The cameramen would never have done something so bold unless they had received instructions from higher above.
Andropov was able to benefit from the times. Until 1969, no active security chief had been a full member of the Politburo: Andropov was the first and he started a domino effect in the provinces . This relaxation vis-à-vis the security forces was brought about by the feeling that there was no more threat from the security forces. In fact, there was a policy to glorify the state security organs and Andropov clearly benefited from this policy. The attestation of this fact can be seen that from 1978 onwards, the KGB was 'of the USSR' and not attached to the USSR Council of Ministers.
The KGB factor gave him the best information about the country. This allowed him to play an important role (and to seem knowledgeable) in all matters. For example on the foreign policy, he was only second to Minister of Foreign Affairs, A. A. Gromyko. The KGB channels not only provided him with excellent knowledge but he was able to manipulate the same mechanism to spread images about himself. Andropov had a double image: one for the West and for the Soviets. He was presented as a 'closet liberal' to the West (who "speaks English, likes music and French wine and wears strong spectacles," reads American and English newspapers and magazines everyday, listens to American jazz and pop songs, dances the tango, enjoys Scotch and cognac, and enjoys conversing with dissidents but has to seem like a monster because of his position). The Washington Post wrote on May 39, 1982 that Andropov "would send his own car to fetch a dissident to his home for a friendly midnight chat, and then send him back to his own home in the same car". Such stories were mostly fabricated.
However, for domestic consumption, he presented himself as the character who would provide order and stability. "Andropov's campaign against corruption has already enjoyed the support of the people, who view the Party bureaucrats as parasites; and the KGB's assault on dissidents, liberals, and Jews has left the people, in the best case, merely indifferent". The KGB's role in all this image-making cannot be underestimated. KGB's selective information and image presentation was crucial for him.
Therefore, the KGB factor was extremely useful for him. However, it seems unlikely that he could have achieved his target, had he not operated in favorable times, i.e., Brezhnev's era and not immediately after Stalin. Yet, credit must be given to the way in which he organized the KGB's mechanisms to disgrace his opponents. Thus, one must credit that Andropov's success as much to him as to other factors.
Andropov's brief rule was important for what it 'planted'. His list of clients or protégés reads like a 'who's who' of the last years of the Soviet Union and even of today. His "sponsorship of this new generation was unmistakable". His crowning achievement was Mikhail Gorbachev who was pushed by Andropov into the political forefront. In December 1987, after seeing a photograph of Andropov in Washington, Raisa Gorbachev said, 'We owe everything to him'.
The list includes other current (charismatic) names such as Eduard Shevardnadze and Haydar Aliyev. Andropov looked out for both men and helped them to rise to the top echelons of the Soviet Union.
Two people that Andropov had brought out from obscurity were Nikolas Ryzhkov and Yegor Ligachev. Ryzhkov was appointed a secretary of the Central Committee by Andropov and has since then been the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Prime Minister of the USSR, chairman of a major bank, candidate for presidency of Russia in 1991, and currently a member of the Russian State Duma. Ligachev was another secretary of the Central Committee and later party's second secretary. Since 1995, he is the vice-chairman of the Union of Communist Parties of former USSR and is involved in nationalist and communist circles.
Andropov's importance for today is not limited by his protégés: Russia's Communist Party's official program "looks back longingly to Yuri Andropov, . . . crediting him somehow with establishing 'freedom of speech and freedom of political associations'" and Gennadi Zyuganov, leader of the party, admires the human-rights record of Andropov. The fact that Felix Dzezhinsky's statues were brought down in recent times should be kept in mind along with the fact that he was the first (and till Andropov) only head of security forces who had any kind of personality cult. Andropov's cult, it seems, will be growing over the years to come. On 15 June 1985, Moscow TV had broadcast a 75 minute documentary on Andropov and another "cult figure for the public to revere and worship" was born.
The security services have undergone some changes in the post-Soviet era. Mostly, the changes have been in name and in reorganization rather than in substance. Many of the security people still have a connection with the KGB and ties to Andropov. This was especially true for the Ministry of Security (MB) (Jan.1992-Dec. 1993). Nikolai Golushko is one example. Golushko was one of the chiefs in the MB and later continued working in MB's successor, Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK). "The MB's stated goals differed little from those of Western counterintelligence services" but yet their staff of 137,000 dwarfed the staff of FBI (24,000 employees). "The KGB's successors do not serve society, but rather the men in the Kremlin" just like their predecessors. Therefore, given the current situation in Russia (and in the other post-Soviet states) security forces will remain a political force in the years to come and another 'Andropov' might rise. Theodore Karasik makes the point that Vladimir Putin is following much of Andropov's tactics. In fact, Russia since the end of the Soviet Union has seen many former KGB officers rise to the top. Their knowledge of the state apparatus along with their appeal to the people (and elites) that they will bring stability and order have made them top candidates.