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The Book of the Week is “Yuri Andropov, A Secret Passage Into the Kremlin” by Vladimir Solovyov and Elena Klepikova, published in 1983.
“But the same man who, with the aid of his all-powerful organization, had put them in the saddle was now, while continuing to use them, discrediting them in every way he could, perceiving them no longer as reliable allies but as dangerous rivals in the struggle for power.”
No, not everyone’s favorite former American president. Yuri Andropov.
Born in July 1914 just north of the Caucasus, as a Soviet politician, Andropov manipulated the situation in Hungary in 1956, and helped plan the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. He benefited from the power vacuum resulting from executions ordered by Josef Stalin. Khrushchev (Soviet supreme leader until his ousting in 1964, to be replaced by Brezhnev) inspired pride in Russian-ness, replacing the Communist Party with the Russian Party. But one-party rule still prevailed in the empire.
In May 1967 Andropov was named head of the then-KGB and was elected to be a member of the Politburo. His ultimate goal was to hold onto all of the territories over which Moscow ruled. The following year, he was involved in political machinations in Czechoslovakia.
Brezhnev– a sick, old man desperately clinging to power, acquired a reputation for having a passive leadership style. He was under the delusion that all was well, but behind the scenes, Andropov as head of the KGB was quite manipulative. The latter employed the usual thought-control techniques of dictators. One was divide and conquer. At the tail-end of the 1970’s, he began an insidious KGB propaganda campaign through mailed letters and pamphlets, insinuating that three Politburo members and Brezhnev’s wife were Jewish, and that Brezhnev himself was a Zionist. If the smears were true, the victims would be socially stigmatized– given the then-anti-Semitic bent of the USSR. This got the government’s factions fighting among themselves.
In April 1982, Andropov had the KGB secretly invite (rebellious) young-adult children of Politburo members to a (then-politically incorrect) Nazi rally at Pushkin Square in Moscow to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Parents and teachers of the youths wouldn’t have wanted them to attend the event. In this way, the Politburo members’ reputations were damaged.
Andropov launched other initiatives such as the anti-corruption ones in Azerbaijan and Soviet Georgia that turned the former into a police state. Azerbaijan would have become a military dictatorship, but for the fact that it, along with all the other Soviet satellites, had to report to the central government in Moscow, with its layers and layers of bureaucracy. In Georgia, starting in 1978 or so, all manner of government functionaries accused of financial crimes were arrested, jailed, tortured, killed– for five years running.
Andropov used Stalin’s trick of exploiting free labor to give an economic boost to his empire. By criminalizing all manner of minor transgressions (petty hooliganism, drunkenness, lateness for work, theft of any kind– because the Communist government owns ALL), scores of otherwise law-abiding citizens were thrown into the Gulag, where they were put to work.
Read the book to learn how Andropov played his cards correctly in many other ways in order to become the head honcho of the Soviet Union (hint: linguistically and agriculturally in Georgia, militarily in Poland, politically in the 1980 U.S. presidential election; in terms of the Pope’s nationality; etc.).