Andropov was born in Nagutskaya, Stavropol Region, Russian Empire, on 15 June 1914. He was the son of a railway official, Vladimir Konstantinovich Andropov, who was of a noble Don Cossack family and Yevgenia Karlovna Fleckenstein, the daughter of a Moscow watchmaker, Karl Franzovich Fleckenstein, who was Jewish and originally from Finland. Andropov was educated at the Rybinsk Water Transport Technical College and graduated in 1936. Both of his parents died early, leaving Yuri an orphan at the age of thirteen. As a teenager he worked as a loader, a telegraph clerk, and a sailor for the Volga steamship line.
At 16, Yuri Andropov, then a member of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (YCL, or Komsomol), was a worker in the town of Mozdok in the North Ossetian ASSR. He became full-time Secretary of the YCL organization of the Water Transport Technical School in Rybinsk in the Yaroslavl Region and was soon promoted to the post of organizer of the YCL Central Committee at the Volodarsky Shipyards in Rybinsk. In 1938, he was elected First Secretary of the Yaroslavl Regional Committee of the YCL, and was First Secretary of the Central Committee of Komsomol in the Soviet Karelo-Finnish Republic from 1940 to 1944.
During World War II, Andropov took part in partisan guerrilla activities in Finland. From 1944 onwards, he left Komsomol for Communist Party work. Between 1946 and 1951, he studied at the university of Petrozavodsk. In 1947, he was elected Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Karelo-Finnish SSR.
In 1951 Andropov was transferred, by the decision of the CPSU Central Committee, to its staff. He was appointed an inspector and then the head of a subdepartment of the Committee.
In July 1954 he was appointed Soviet Ambassador to Hungary and held this position during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Andropov played a key role in crushing the Hungarian uprising. He convinced a reluctant Nikita Khrushchev that military intervention was necessary. He is known as ‘The Butcher of Budapest’ for his ruthless suppression of the Hungarian uprising. The Hungarian leaders were arrested and Imre Nagy and others executed.
After these events, Andropov suffered from a "Hungarian complex", according to historian Christopher Andrew: "he had watched in horror from the windows of his embassy as officers of the hated Hungarian security service were strung up from lampposts. Andropov remained haunted for the rest of his life by the speed with which an apparently all-powerful Communist one-party state had begun to topple. When other Communist regimes later seemed at risk – in Prague in 1968, in Kabul in 1979, in Warsaw in 1981, he was convinced that, as in Budapest in 1956, only armed force could ensure their survival".
In 1957 Andropov returned to Moscow from Budapest in order to head the Department for Liaison with Communist and Workers' Parties in Socialist Countries, a position he held until 1967. In 1961, he was elected full member of the CPSU Central Committee and was promoted to the Secretariat of the CPSU Central Committee in 1962. In 1967 he was relieved of his work in the Central Committee apparatus and appointed head of the KGB on recommendation of Mikhail Suslov, at the same time promoted a Candidate Member of the Politburo. He gained additional powers in 1973, when he was promoted to full member of the Politburo.
During the Prague Spring events of 1968 in Czechoslovakia, Andropov was the main proponent of the "extreme measures". "The KGB whipped up the fear that Czechoslovakia could fall victim to NATO aggression or to a coup". At this time, agent Oleg Kalugin reported from Washington that he gained access to "absolutely reliable documents proving that neither the CIA nor any other agency was manipulating the Czechoslovak reform movement". However his message was destroyed because it contradicted the conspiracy theory fabricated by Andropov. Andropov ordered a number of active measures, collectively known as operation PROGRESS, against Czechoslovak reformers.
After the assassination attempt against Brezhnev in January 1969, Andropov led the interrogation of the captured gunman, Viktor Ivanovich Ilyin. Ilyin was pronounced insane and sent to Kazan Psychiatric Hospital.
Andropov aimed to achieve "the destruction of dissent in all its forms" and always insisted that "the struggle for human rights was a part of a wide-ranging imperialist plot to undermine the foundation of the Soviet state". By the time he became Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party in 1982 Andropov had successfully suppressed dissent in the USSR by a mixture of repression, wide use of psychiatric prison hospitals, and pressure on rights activists and other dissidents to emigrate from the Soviet Union.
These measures were meticulously documented throughout his time as KGB chairman by the underground Chronicle of Current Events, a samizdat publication which was itself finally forced out of existence with its last published issue, dated 30 June 1982.
On 3 July 1967, he made a proposal to establish for dealing with the political opposition the KGB's Fifth Directorate (ideological counterintelligence). At the end of July, the directorate was established and entered in its files cases of all Soviet dissidents including Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In 1968, Andropov as the KGB Chairman issued his order "On the tasks of State security agencies in combating the ideological sabotage by the adversary", calling for struggle against dissidents and their imperialist masters.
On 29 April 1969, he submitted to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union an elaborated plan for creating a network of psychiatric hospitals to defend the "Soviet Government and socialist order" from dissidents. In January 1970 Andropov submitted an alarming account to his fellow Politburo members of the widespread threat of the mentally ill to stability and the security of the regime. The proposal by Andropov to use psychiatry for struggle against dissidents was implemented. Andropov was in charge of the widespread deployment of psychiatric repression since he has headed the KGB. According to Yuri Felshtinsky and Boris Gulko, the originators of the idea to use psychiatry for punitive purposes were the head of the KGB Andropov and the head of the Fifth Directorate Philipp Bobkov.
The repression of dissidents included plans to maim the dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who had defected in 1961. There are some who believe that Andropov was behind the deaths of Fyodor Kulakov and Pyotr Masherov, the two youngest members of the Soviet leadership.
A declassified document revealed that Andropov as KGB director gave the order to prevent unauthorized gatherings mourning the death of John Lennon.
Andropov opposed the decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan on 24 December 1979. Among his concerns was that the international community would blame the USSR for this action.
The invasion led to the extended Soviet–Afghan War (1979–1989) and a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow by 66 countries, something of concern to Andropov since spring 1979.
On 10 December 1981, in the face of Poland's Solidarity movement, Andropov, along with Mikhail Suslov and Wojciech Jaruzelski, persuaded Brezhnev that it would be counterproductive for the Soviet Union to invade Poland by repeating Prague 1968. This effectively marked the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine.
From 1980 to 1982, while still chairman of the KGB, Andropov opposed plans to occupy Poland after the emergence of the Solidarity movement and promoted reform-minded party cadres including Mikhail Gorbachev. Andropov was the longest-serving KGB chairman and did not resign as head of the KGB until May 1982, when he was again promoted to the Secretariat to succeed Mikhail Suslov as secretary responsible for ideological affairs.
Two days after Leonid Brezhnev's death, on 12 November 1982, Andropov was elected General Secretary of the CPSU, the first former head of the KGB to become General Secretary. His appointment was received in the West with apprehension, in view of his roles in the KGB and in Hungary. At the time his personal background was a mystery in the West, with major newspapers printing detailed profiles of him that were inconsistent and in several cases fabricated.
During his rule, Andropov attempted to improve the economy by raising management effectiveness without changing the principles of socialist economy. In contrast to Brezhnev's policy of avoiding conflicts and dismissals, he began to fight violations of party, state and labour discipline, which led to significant personnel changes during an anti-corruption campaign against many of Brezhnev's cronies. During 15 months in office, Andropov dismissed 18 ministers, and 37 first secretaries of obkoms, kraikoms and Central Committees of Communist Parties of Soviet Republics; criminal cases on highest party and state officials were started. For the first time, the facts about economic stagnation and obstacles to scientific progress were made available to the public and criticised.
In foreign policy, the war continued in Afghanistan, although Andropov - who felt the invasion was a mistake - did half-heartedly explore options for a negotiated withdrawal. Andropov's rule was also marked by deterioration of relations with the United States. U.S. plans to deploy Pershing missiles in Western Europe in response to the Soviet SS-20 missiles were contentious. But when Paul Nitze, the American negotiator, suggested a compromise plan for nuclear missiles in Europe in the celebrated "walk in the woods" with Soviet negotiator Yuli Kvitsinsky, the Soviets never responded. Kvitsinsky would later write that, despite his own efforts, the Soviet side was not interested in compromise, instead calculating that peace movements in the West would force the Americans to capitulate. On 8 March 1983, during Andropov's reign as General Secretary, U.S. President Ronald Reagan famously labeled the Soviet Union an "evil empire". The same month, on 23 March, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative. Reagan claimed this research program into ballistic missile defense would be "consistent with our obligations under the ABM Treaty". However, Andropov was dismissive of this claim, and said that "It is time they [Washington] stopped... search[ing] for the best ways of unleashing nuclear war... Engaging in this is not just irresponsible. It is insane".
In August 1983 Andropov made a sensational announcement that the country was stopping all work on space-based weapons. One of his most notable acts during his short time as leader of the Soviet Union was in response to a letter from a 10-year-old American child from Maine named Samantha Smith, inviting her to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Soviet-U.S. arms control talks on intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe were suspended by the Soviet Union in November 1983 and by the end of the year, the Soviets had broken off all arms control negotiations.
Cold War tensions were exacerbated by Soviet fighters downing a civilian jet liner, Korean Air Flight KAL-007, which carried 269 passengers and crew, including a congressman from Georgia, Larry McDonald. KAL 007 had strayed over the Soviet Union on 1 September 1983 on its way from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seoul, South Korea. Andropov was advised by his Defence Minister Dmitriy Ustinov and by the head of the KGB Viktor Chebrikov to keep secret the fact that the Soviet Union held in its possession the sought-after "black box" from KAL 007.
In his memoirs, Mikhail Gorbachev recalled that when Andropov was the leader, Gorbachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov, the chairman of Gosplan, asked him for access to real budget figures. "You are asking too much," Andropov responded. "The budget is off limits to you."
In February 1983, Andropov suffered total renal failure. In August 1983, he entered the Central Clinical Hospital in western Moscow on a permanent basis, where he would spend the remainder of his life.
In late January 1984 Andropov's health deteriorated sharply and due to growing toxicity in his blood, he had periods of failing consciousness. He died on 9 February 1984 at 16:50 in his hospital room at age 69. Few of the top Soviet leaders, not even all the Politburo members, learned of his death on that day. According to the Soviet post mortum medical report, Andropov suffered from several medical conditions: interstitial nephritis, nephrosclerosis, residual hypertension and diabetes, which were worsened by chronic kidney deficiency.
A four-day period of nationwide mourning was announced. Andropov was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, who was already terminally ill and served an even shorter time in office (13 months) than Andropov did before his own death in office in March 1985.
Andropov lived at 26 Kutuzovsky Prospekt, the same building in which Suslov and Brezhnev also lived. He was first married to Nina Ivanovna; she was born not too far away from the local farm in which Andropov was born. In 1983 she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a successful operation. He met his second wife, Tatyana Filipovna, during World War II on the Karelian Front when she was Komsomol secretary. She had suffered a nervous breakdown during the Hungarian revolution. Andropov's chief guard informed Tatyana about the death of her husband. She was too grief-stricken to join in the procession and during the funeral her relatives helped her to walk. Before the lid could be closed on Andropov's coffin, she bent to kiss him. She touched his hair and then kissed him again. In 1985, a respectful 75-minute film was broadcast in which Tatyana (not even seen in public until Andropov's funeral) reads love poems written by her husband. Tatyana became ill and died in November 1991.
Andropov's legacy remains the subject of much debate in Russia and elsewhere, both among scholars and in the popular media. He remains the focus of television documentaries and popular non-fiction, particularly around important anniversaries. As KGB head, Andropov was ruthless against dissent, and author David Remnick, who covered the Soviet Union for the Washington Post in the 1980s, called Andropov "profoundly corrupt, a beast". Alexander Yakovlev, later an advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev and the ideologist of perestroika, said "In a way I always thought Andropov was the most dangerous of all of them, simply because he was smarter than the rest." However, it was Andropov himself who recalled Yakovlev back to high office in Moscow in 1983 after a ten-year exile as ambassador to Canada after attacking Russian chauvinism. Yakovlev was also a close colleague of Andropov associate KGB General Yevgeny Primakov, later Prime Minister of Russia. Andropov began to follow a trend of replacing elderly officials with considerably younger replacements.
According to his former subordinate Securitate general Ion Mihai Pacepa,
"In the West, if Andropov is remembered at all, it is for his brutal suppression of political dissidence at home and for his role in planning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. By contrast, the leaders of the former Warsaw Pact intelligence community, when I was one of them, looked up to Andropov as the man who substituted the KGB for the Communist party in governing the Soviet Union, and who was the godfather of Russia's new era of deception operations aimed at improving the badly damaged image of Soviet rulers in the West."
Despite Andropov's hard-line stance in Hungary and the numerous banishments and intrigues for which he was responsible during his long tenure as head of the KGB, he has become widely regarded by many commentators as a reformer, especially in comparison with the stagnation and corruption during the later years of his predecessor, Leonid Brezhnev. Andropov, "a throwback to a tradition of Leninist asceticism", was appalled by the corruption during Brezhnev's regime, and ordered investigations and arrests of the most flagrant abusers. The investigations were so frightening that several members of Brezhnev's circle "shot, gassed or otherwise did away with themselves." He was certainly generally regarded as inclined to more gradual and constructive reform than was Gorbachev; most of the speculation centres around whether Andropov would have reformed the USSR in a manner which did not result in its eventual dissolution.
The Western media favored Andropov because of his supposed passion for Western music and scotch. However, these were unproven rumours. It is also questionable whether Andropov spoke any English at all. The short time he spent as leader, much of it in a state of extreme ill health, leaves debaters few concrete indications as to the nature of any hypothetical extended rule.
In a message read out at the opening of a new exhibition dedicated to Andropov, Vladimir Putin called him "a man of talent with great abilities." Putin has praised Andropov's "honesty and uprightness." According to Russian historian Nikita Petrov, "He was a typical Soviet jailer who violated human rights. Andropov headed the organisation which persecuted the most remarkable people of our country." From Petrov's point, it was a shame for the country that the persecutor of intelligentsia, the persecutor of freedom of thought, a man of whom as an oppressor of freedom legends were composed, became leader of the country. According to Roy Medvedev, the year that Andropov spent in power was memorable for increasing repression against dissidents. During most of his KGB career, Andropov crushed dissident movements, isolated people in psychiatric hospitals, sent them to prison and deported them from the Soviet Union. According to political scientist Georgy Arbatov, Andropov bears responsibility for many injustices in the 1970s and early 1980s: for deportations, for political arrests, for persecuting dissidents, for the abuse of psychiatry, for notorious cases such as the persecution of academician Andrei Sakharov. According to Dmitri Volkogonov and Harold Shukman, it was Andropov who approved the numerous trials of human rights activists such as Andrei Amalrik, Vladimir Bukovsky, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Alexander Ginzburg, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Pyotr Grigorenko, Anatoly Shcharansky, and others. According to Soviet dissident Yuri Glazov, Andropov was a paradigmatic Homo Sovieticus and personally conducted disinformation campaigns against his main opponents and dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
According to Natalya Gorbanevskaya, now for some reason, we usually say that after Andropov's coming to power dissident movement went into decline, as if it itself went into decline. The movement did not go into decline but was strangled. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, repression was most severe, a lot of people were picked up for a second time, and when you are taken away for a second time, then your term is longer, and the camp regime is not strict but specific, and when Andropov became General Secretary, he introduced an Article under which for violations of camp regime you could be put into not only to a punishment cell but received an additional term up to three years, that is a person for his two or three remarks could be sent not home but to another camp to criminals. And in those years there were a lot of deaths in camps not from hunger-strikes, but just from a disease, lack of medical care, etc.Soviet Awards
Honorary Member of the KGB, 1973
Ленинизм озаряет наш путь [Leninism illumes our way] (in Russian). Moscow: Издательство политической литературы. 1964.
Ленинизм — наука и искусство революционного творчества [Leninism is science and art of revolutionary creativity] (in Russian). Moscow: Издательство политической литературы. 1976.
Коммунистическая убежденность — великая сила строителей нового мира [Communist firm belief is a great power of builders of new world] (in Russian). Moscow: Издательство политической литературы. 1977.
"Доклад на торжественном заседании по случаю столетия со дня рождения Ф.Э. Дзержинского" [The report at the solemn meeting on the occasion of the centenary of F.E. Dzerzhinsky's birth]. Izvestiya (in Russian). 10 October 1977.
Шестьдесят лет СССР: доклад на совместном торжественном заседании Центрального Комитета КПСС, Верховного Совета СССР и Верховного Совета РСФСР, в Кремлевском Дворце съездов, 21 декабря 1982 года [The sixty years of the USSR: a report of a joint solemn meeting of the CPSU Central Committee, the USSR Supreme Soviet and the RSFSR Supreme Soviet in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, 21 December 1982] (in Russian). Moscow: Издательство политической литературы. 1982.
"Text of Andropov's speech at Brezhnev's funeral". The New York Times. 16 November 1982.
Speeches and writings. Oxford; New York: Pergamon Press. 1983. ISBN 008031287X.
Selected speeches and articles. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 1984. ASIN B003UHCKTO.
Speeches, articles, interviews. A Selection. South Asia Books. 1984. ISBN 083641165X.
Учение Карла Маркса и некоторые вопросы социалистического строительства в СССР [The teaching of Karl Marx and some issues of socialist building in the USSR] (in Russian). Moscow: Издательство политической литературы. 1983.
Ленинизм — неисчерпаемый источник революционной энергии и творчества масс. Избранные речи и статьи [Leninism is an inexhaustible source of revolutionary energy and creativity of masses. Selected speeches and articles] (in Russian). Moscow: Издательство политической литературы. 1984.
"The birth of samizdat". Index on Censorship. 24 (3): 62–63. 1995. doi:10.1080/03064229508535948.