The World After Andropov
He was too old and too ill, and his days in power were too few to justify any claim to greatness. And there was too much treachery and guile in his past to credit him with goodness. But the death last week of 69year-old Soviet leader Yuri Andropov dashed his 275 million comrades’ lingering hopes that he would become the great leader their troubled country so desperately needs. It also touched off a brief but crucial power struggle within the Soviet high command and caused a fleeting concern in much of the rest of the world.
For the second time in 15 months, Moscow prepared to mount a showcase funeral—complete with hundreds of dignitaries, thousands of troops and untold numbers of flowers and flags— while the Soviet people and the world waited for the 13 old men of the Politburo to choose a new successor to the czars.
Andropov, a shadowy figure who went from spymaster to master politician in the final year of Leonid Brezhnev’s reign, routing all rivals in the process, was only the fifth undisputed boss of the Kremlin since Vladimir Ilyich Lenin led the Russian Revolution in 1917. He also served the briefest term—little more than a year, during much of which he was incapacitated by kidney disease. But Andropov’s emergence in November, 1982, was accompanied by fervent optimism among the Soviet public, and his passing—widely forecast for months—triggered fears that a new leader would revert to the pre-Andropov style of government, with its shameless favoritism and notorious economic ineptitude.
The official death announcement, which was preceded by the ritual broadcasting of sombre classical music, came Friday morning, a full 22 hours after the heart stopped beating in Andropov’s shockingly wasted body. The Soviets had given a few hours’ advance notice to foreign governments. As a 27member state funeral committee chaired by Andropov’s archrival, 72year-old Konstantin Chernenko, began to plan the event, world leaders, including Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French Premier Pierre Mauroy, began making arrangements to fly to Moscow for what was certain to be a spectacular event. President Ronald Reagan decided against attending and instead assigned Vice-President George Bush to represent Washington. But Reagan did send a message of condolence, taking the opportunity to remind the Soviets of “the deep and heartfelt desire of the American people for world peace.” For his part, Bush, who attended Brezhnev’s funeral, where he had a brief meeting with Andropov, noted the severely strained relations between the two superpowers. Declared Bush: “We view this as a turning point, a possibility to move forward, and we’re going there with an open mind.”
Pinched and pale: While tributes and messages of sympathy poured into the snow-swept Soviet capital from nearly all the world’s governments, the Politburo decreed a four-day period of official mourning for Andropov, a onetime Volga boatman who rose through the Communist Party ranks and who served 15 years as head of the dreaded Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB), the Committee for State Security, before becoming general secretary of the party and president of the Soviet Union.
Andropov’s body was taken to lie in state in the former ballroom of the ornate Hall of Columns to await burial on Feb. 14. It was placed in an open casket and, in the Russian tradition, covered to the chest with blankets of flowers, mainly lilies and carnations. Andropov’s face, scarcely recognizable, was pinched and pale. His sparse white hair was barely noticeable in profile, and his lips were thin and colorless. In life, until his illness forced him to retire from public view last Aug. 18, Andropov had been an erect, sturdy, even forceful figure who walked purposefully and stared coolly through thick spectacles. In death he was a shrunken, pathetic figure. The man who had brought grief to thousands of others during his time at the KGB had clearly suffered badly himself in his final months, during which his life was sustained by a dialysis machine that ultimately failed to compensate for acute renal failure.
The setting in the Hall of Columns in the House of Trade Unions, a magnificent Moscow mansion built in 1784 for Prince Dolgorukov-Krymsky and later an exclusive club for the pre-Revolution nobility, verged on the macabre: scores of wreaths and chandeliers draped in black crepe, a 40-piece stringed orchestra dressed in black on a raised stage, a thick red carpet along which invited dignitaries—including government officials, cosmonauts, senior military officers and sports celebrities— walked stiffly past the casket to pay their respects.
Outside the mansion a cordon of police officers stood guard, along with 5,000 Red Army soldiers. The line of mourners, wrapped in thick coats and fur hats, shuffled along Pushkin Street, taking an average of three hours to reach the coffin. A few uninvited citizens tried to join the queue but were turned back by security personnel. All those invited had been carefully chosen to represent a broad cross section of Soviet life, from humble factory workers to senior party functionaries. The buildings of Moscow itself were festooned with Soviet flags, and red-andblack banners flew from virtually every lamp post.
The lying in state was covered extensively by Moscow television and provided a revelation. Muscovites had their first glimpse of Andropov’s wife, a woman wearing a black dress, hat and veil whose name was officially revealed to be Tatyana. Until her appearance Saturday afternoon, most Soviets, indeed, most Western intelligence officials, had believed Andropov to be either widowed or divorced. Tatyana Andropov was accompanied by her daughter, Irina, and her 37-year-old son, Igor, who made no attempt to conceal his grief.
Low-key struggle: In the weeks before Andropov’s death a low-key but intensely waged struggle for the succession developed within the Politburo. It pitted the so-called old guard, veteran politicians who rose to power urider Brezhnev or former chairman Nikita Khrushchev, against younger men whose inclusion in the inner circle came toward the end of Brezhnev’s career or during Andropov’s brief interregnum.
Leading the older forces was Brezhnev favorite Chernenko, who lost a power struggle with Andropov in 1982 but who has exercised a key role in recent months as Andropov’s No. 2. One indicator that Chernenko might wield
even greater power in the next few years was his selection as chairman of the funeral committee, a job performed by Andropov when Brezhnev died. Another was the fact that he and other oldguard members, including the powerful Defence Minister Dmitry Ustinov, 75, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, 74, and Prime Minister Nikolai Tikhonov, 78, led the Politburo members as they trooped into the Hall of Columns Saturday afternoon. The two main younger contenders were Agriculture Minister Mikhail Gorbachev, 52, a hand-picked appointee of Andropov’s, and former Leningrad party boss Grigory Romanov, 61, a hard-liner who moved his power base to become a secretary of the Central Committee last June. Veteran Kremlin watchers speculated that neither Gorbachev, who paid an official visit to Canada last year, nor the handsome and flamboyant Romanov would have been natural choices for the job.
The Soviet public clearly would prefer a younger, more dynamic leadership. But the gerontocracy in the Kremlin has always been wary of radical change. The new leadership will have power and prestige but it will also inherit daunting problems: a stagnant economy at home (page 30) and bitterly hostile relations with the United States as only one of numerous foreign dilemmas, including the continuing Red Army campaign to subdue Afghanistan and increasing agitation for a looser collar in the Eastern European satellites.
Ever since the Soviet air force shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in September, 1983, an incident which claimed 269 lives and provoked revulsion around the world, the Reagan administration has led an unrelenting diplomatic and propaganda offensive against Moscow. Andropov had already withdrawn from public view, and Moscow seemed shaken by the hostility the incident unleashed. Finally, the Kremlin took the unprecedented step of assigning a career Red Army officer, Gen. Nikolai Ogarkov, 66, to explain the Soviet action at a press conference. Ogarkov was impressive, a man who clearly had command of his subject, and his smooth performance before the Western press led to speculation that he might be Ustinov’s eventual successor as defence minister. The support of the army, which backed Andropov, has become almost essential for any aspirant to supreme power in the Soviet Union, which meant that during the recent internal struggle Ustinov was the most assiduously courted of all the Politburo members.
Worsening relations: For his part, Secretary of State George Shultz reacted to Andropov’s death by suggesting that the United States would consider reducing the heat of its rhetoric if the new Soviet regime indicated that it wanted to talk substantively. Said Shultz: “At this time of transition in Moscow ... we remain ready for a constructive and realistic dialogue. In this nuclear age, we seek to find real solutions to real problems, not just to improve the atmosphere of our relations.”
The nuclear stalemate between the superpowers and their worsening relations inspired Trudeau’s much-publicized global peace mission last fall. The Prime Minister was frustrated by Andropov’s poor health when he sought to complete his mission by visiting Moscow with his proposals. But Trudeau clearly hoped for a chance to broach the subject during his trip to the Soviet Union this week.
According to Canada’s former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Robert Ford, the brief Andropov regime will be recalled as a failure, at least in the area of foreign policy. Ford, watching events unfold from his retirement villa in France, declared: “Ten years from now we will look back and probably see a series of setbacks. He [Andropov] was unable to end the revolt in Afghanistan. Poland is still in turmoil. He did not prevent the American missiles from being deployed in Europe. And the Soviet Union suffered losses in the Third World, the Caribbean and Latin America.” Andropov, always a pragmatist, probably would have agreed.
The Soviet leader presided over a closed society and he spent most of his working life in the shadows—first as a bureaucrat, later as a spymaster. Those who knew him said he was ruthless, opportunistic, devious and supersecretive. He guarded details of his private life as diligently as the KGB covers its agents’ identities. Although he served at the summit of world power, Andropov remained a mysterious and remote figure, an enigma to foreign intelligence professionals and the Western media.
Much of the information about Andropov’s sophisticated lifestyle, which gained wide circulation on both sides of the Iron Curtain while he was making his meticulously planned bid to succeed Brezhnev, has since been ridiculed—by his son, Igor, among others. Andropov’s false image was probably constructed by the KGB—as part of a cunning, propaganda campaign. Its purpose: to make a 15-year veteran of the secret police politically palatable among Soviet officials and the general population. Its method: the systematic planting of false bits of information among Western correspondents who were hungry for personal details about a man with a strong chance to rule a superpower, information that was dutifully reported in the West and then broadcast back to the Soviet Union by such widely listened-to services as Radio Free Europe and the British Broadcasting Corp. Its copromoters: Soviet defectors and dissident émigrés who parroted, confirmed or embellished KGB falsehoods in order to curry favor, establish reputations or promote books in the West.
Tantalizing gossip: The “disinformation” campaign about Andropov was so effective that ordinarily circumspect and cautious publications, including those with international circulations, presented Andropov as an urbane, witty conversationalist who had a firm grasp of the English language, a penchant for big band music by Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, a taste for French brandy and Scotch whisky, a fondness for such Western novels as Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley and Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, a passion for tennis and swimming and an insatiable appetite for dancing the tango. There were other pieces of gossip, equally tantalizing, equally uncheckable.
After his father had consolidated his hold on power, Igor Andropov, a middle-echelon foreign affairs specialist, expressed astonishment at the swinger’s image presented in the Western media. He once told an interviewer: “He has always been too busy working. He has no time [for such pastimes].” And when Bush met Andropov after Brezhnev’s funeral, the Soviet leader did not use a single word of English and he relied on an interpreter to read and translate a few simple paragraphs. According to American journalist Edward Jay Epstein, who wrote a devastating analysis of early Android pov coverage in the U.S.
1 media for The New Re-
2 public magazine: “What 2 emerges . . .is a portrait
worthy of Saturday
Night Live—the head of
the KGB as one wild and crazy guy. [The truth is] that virtually nothing is known about this man called Andropov: not the names of his parents, not his ethnic background, not his war service, not his preferences in music and literature, not his linguistic abilities, not his ideas.” Indeed, the day Andropov died there were still conflicting reports about whether his wife, variously identified as Tatyana, Tanya and Natasha, was alive. Some biographers insisted that Andropov had two daughters, although only one had ever been named: Irina, the wife of actor Aleksandr Filipov. And she was either a journalist or a Moscow housewife, depending on the source consulted.
Despite Andropov’s almost obsessive secrecy, some details were generally accepted as accurate and were essentially confirmed by his brief, almost cryptic official biography. Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov was born on June 15,1914, in the small railway town of Nagutskaya in Stavropol province in southwestern Russia. His father was “a railroad man,” according to the biography. Nothing is known in the West of Andropov’s early years—it is assumed that he spent most of them in school—but by the age of 16 he was working as a Volga boatman at Mozdok and he had joined the Communist Youth League (Komsomol). He also worked briefly as a telegraph operator and then became a Komsomol organizer at the Volodarsky shipyards in the port of Rybinsk, where he also attended the Inland Waterways Transport College.
He later enrolled in a university at Petrozavodsk, near the Finnish border, but there is no evidence that Andropov ever graduated; apparently he had become too busy with his Communist Party duties to spend time in classrooms. He rose quickly through the ranks of the Komsomol, which was continuously purged by Stalin (as were all other sectors of Soviet society, including the military, in the years before the Second World War), and he managed to stay out of trouble while earning the approval of his seniors. By 1940, when he was barely 26, Andropov had been promoted to the sensitive and important post of first secretary of the Komsomol in the new Karelian republic which had been carved out of former Finnish territory after the 1939-40 Russo-Finnish war. He had just taken up his post when Germany attacked the Soviet Union and Finland declared war on Moscow. Parts of Karelia were occupied by Finnish and German troops, and, according to the official biography, Andropov became “an active participant in the partisan movement.” After the Red Army reclaimed the area in 1944, Andropov’s career resumed its upward path and by 1951 he had become a senior bureaucrat with the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow. time, although he had been elected a secretary of the Central Committee two years earlier and was known among senior party bureaucrats as a man to watch. Under Khrushchev’s benevolent hand, Andropov’s career prospered. When Khrushchev was overthrown in late 1964 and a protracted power strug-
He served on the committee for three years, first as an inspector with unspecified duties and later as the head of a section that maintained liaison with the Communist parties in the various Eastern European satellites. By 1954, as the brutal Stalin era began to fade into history and the Nikita Khrushchev regime was becoming entrenched, Andropov was chosen for a diplomatic posting: ambassador to Hungary. It was another upward step, and one that had profound consequences for his career.
Full-blown revolution: In Budapest there was mounting dissatisfaction among Hungarian officials and workers with their Soviet masters. In 1956 the government of Imre Nagy, encouraged by liberal elements within the Hungarian Communist Party, challenged Moscow’s authority. Within days a fullblown revolution was under way. It was crushed by Soviet tanks. The Soviets arrested Nagy, executed him and installed Andropov’s nominee, János Kádár, as head of the local party. Throughout the battle Andropov’s embassy served as Soviet command headquarters, and he personally acted as the liaison in the Moscow-Budapest dialogue, evidently impressing his superiors at home and at least reassuring the new regime in Hungary. His reward followed swiftly: in 1957 he returned to Moscow and was given a senior party job—chief co-ordinator of relations with the Soviet Bloc countries.
For the next decade he travelled extensively outside the Soviet Union but he never ventured beyond its sphere of influence. He worked closely with the Politburo’s powerful party theoretician, Mikhail Suslov, and in 1964 Khrushchev chose him to make the April 22 Lenin Day speech to the top officials of both the party and state organizations. It was a singular honor. The speech, reported in full in the Soviet press, made Andropov a public figure for the first Andropov swiftly made himself the No. 2 man behind Brezhnev, who was 75 years old and suffering from severe respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. With the KGB and the all-powerful Red Army (in which he had become a general in 1976) firmly behind his candidacy, and with the unwavering support of Defence Minister Dmitry Ustinov, Andropov easily won a Politburo election to succeed Suslov as minister of ideology. Suslov, who had been a Kremlin power figure for decades, had died of a stroke in January, 1982. Brezhnev clearly wanted Chernenko to fill the ideologue’s chair. But the chairman was ill, his daughter’s love affairs and night-clubbing had become a KGBfuelled scandal in Moscow, and Andropov had a majority of Politburo votes tied up. The aging chairman lost. Andropov could not be stopped.
gle followed, Andropov shrewdly decided to back Brezhnev. Afterward, his career flourished.
The two most important advances in Andropov’s life—his appointment as the chief of the KGB in 1967 and his capture of supreme power in 1982—were at least partly attributable to misbehavior by daughters of former Soviet leaders. In 1967 Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, defected to the West, shocking senior Soviet and party officials and leading to the dismissal
of, among others, KGB boss Vladimir Semichastny. In 1982 Galina Brezhnev’s peccadillos and questionable Moscow companions, one of whom was a jewel thief, were used by Andropov to undermine her father’s authority among Politburo and Central Committee members and to enhance Andropov’s own claim to the succession.
Andropov’s appointment to the KGB put him in charge of a vast network of domestic spies, police and border guards—current KGB manpower is roughly 500,000—and a then small and relatively unsophisticated intelligence
service abroad. There is little doubt that Brezhnev and Suslov expected Andropov to reinforce the party’s control over the secret police—an organization feared by almost everyone in the Soviet Union. Founded as the Cheka by Felix Dzerzhinsky, who was handpicked by Lenin and whose name identifies the vast Moscow square now shared by KGB headquarters and the toy store Detsky Mir (Children’s World), the secret police were renamed the NKVD under
Stalin. In 1967 Andropov was following in the footsteps, but not copying the style, of such notorious security bosses as Genrikh Yagoda and Lavrenti Beria, who conducted bloody purges on Stalin’s orders and were subsequently executed for their efforts. Shortly after taking command Andropov began modernizing and expanding the KGB, both at home and abroad. The shadowy world of spies, international intrigue, trouble making, disinformation and so-called “wet jobs” (assassinations) were only part of his job. He also displayed the managerial talent needed to run a huge and far-flung organization and to master vast amounts of detail. His demonstrated ability, augmented by his personal loathing of corruption and laziness, later reinforced his claim for supreme power.
Controversial campaign: During his tenure at the KGB Andropov became a full member of the Politburo (in 1973) and effectively smashed the dissident movement within the Soviet Unionallowing thousands of disaffected Jews to emigrate and arresting or placing in psychiatric wards thousands of other critics of the Brezhnev regime. It was a long and controversial campaign and one that unleashed impotent fury in the West. But Andropov persevered and, by the time he handed over the KGB to Vitaly V. Fedorchuk, since promoted to the post of internal affairs minister, the dissident movement was virtually exhausted and emigration had stopped. Andropov resigned from the KGB in May, 1982, to cleanse his image and begin his final climb to absolute power.
When Brezhnev died on Nov. 10,1982, after 18 years as the top man in the troubled, mighty country, Andropov emerged as the new leader within two days. His campaign, ruthless and relentless, was so effective that his name was put forward, unopposed, by Chernenko himself, Brezhnev’s personal choice as successor. At the massive state funeral for Brezhnev, Andropov paid his respects not only to his predecessor but also to the widow, Viktoria Petrovna Brezhnev, and her daughter, the impetuous Galina. Andropov kissed them both, a gesture that made world headlines but infuriated Brezhnev loyalists.
Once in power, after greeting and briefly talking with a succession of world leaders who had flown to Moscow for the funeral, Andropov quickly defined the kind of nation he wanted the Soviet Union to become. He issued a truculent warning to the West that Soviet military might was unbeatable. Then he ordered the trappings of personality, which highlighted the final Brezhnev years, to be dismantled (curtailing nonbusiness use of limousines, promising that his children would not receive special favors or unearned promotions), and he began replacing Brezhnev allies throughout the Soviet system.
At the same time, he issued a stern warning to workers that drunkenness and absenteeism would not be tolerated and he warned bureaucrats that corruption and incompetence would be severely punished. He fired the interior minister and the agriculture minister. He sent the police out on Operation Trawl, stopping and questioning citizens during working hours and arresting those who could not explain why they were not at their jobs.
He maintained an uncharacteristically high profile, visiting factories, greeting foreign dignitaries and issuing warnings to the United States about the dangers inherent in U.S. military and nuclear policy, particularly in Europe. He even attempted to soften his otherwise stern image by inviting an 11-yearold American schoolgirl named Samantha Smith to be his guest for two weeks so she could see for herself that the Soviet people were generous and peaceloving. Samantha, who had earlier written Andropov to ask why his country wanted to make war with hers,
made the trip to Moscow and toured the country. But she did not meet the Soviet leader, probably because he had suffered a health setback.
Cemented his grip: Still, Andropov was able to achieve in scarcely more than six months an honor that had taken Brezhnev 13 years to accomplish: election as president of the Soviet Union, a largely ceremonial position. Andropov won that final honor on June 16, cementing his grip on power.
Throughout his brief term, relations between Moscow and Washington declined steadily as Reagan and Andropov both refused to soften their hard-line stands. Andropov failed in his long-held objective of preventing the deployment of U.S. cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe. Their deployment began on schedule in December as the Soviets broke off crucial Geneva-based talks on limiting medium-range nuclear weapons. By that time Andropov was only nominally in charge, although the Soviet government continued to issue edicts in his name and to insist that he was suffering nothing more than a heavy cold. But he had not been seen in public since Aug. 18, when he met a group of U.S. senators. He missed the Nov. 7 parade honoring the 1917 Revolution, and he was widely rumored to be dying.
Andropov, who began the year by forcing Soviet workers to increase pro-
duction and by making the bureaucracy function more smoothly for the first time in memory, ended it hobbled by health problems and unable to achieve many of his economic goals at home or diplomatic objectives abroad. His death was almost an anticlimax. It caused barely a ripple on Western money markets and was treated almost as a routine development in foreign capitals, at least partly because it had been so widely forecast. For a man whose life had scaled the summit of power in the second-greatest nation on earth, death was, by contrast, only an agonized whimper.