Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov was born on June 15, 1914 in Stavropol. At 16 he joined the local Komsomol (communist league), where he was promoted to Secretary six years later. He took full profit of Stalin's terror, which put a lot of people behind bars (or worse). Promotions were there for the taking for Andropov. During World War II, he organized partisan groups behind the front lines.
After the war Andropov continued his fast career in the Communist Party, which was remarkable since he had no power base to rely on (it was quite important in Soviet society to have people around you who could pull some strings occasionally). In 1951, he was appointed in the powerful Central Comity. From there he made an unusual step: he became ambassador in Hungary's capital Budapest.
His assistance in solving the Hungarian uprising in 1956 made his star rise (he also visited Czechoslovakia with Leonid Brezhnev just before the Soviet army put an end to the Prague Spring) and in 1967 Andropov became the new head of the KGB. He immediately turned the organization upside down and replaced the heavyweights. By banning out corruption, he tried to build a good image for the service and himself. He was "masterful at conveying the impression of being sincere and natural", as Martin Ebon points out in The Andropov File. The new KGB managed to suppress the dissident movement in the early seventies. Andropov made his view on the subject clear in a 1977 speech:
"This is why Western propaganda makes so much fuss about 'human rights' and about the so-called 'dissidents'. Soviet citizens have the right to criticize and to make proposals. This right is guaranteed by Article 49 of the Constitution, which forbids repression for criticism. But it is an entirely different matter when a few individuals transform criticism into anti-Soviet activity, violate the law, supply Western propaganda centres with false information, disseminate false rumours, try to organize anti-social actions. These renegades have no support from the Soviet people. This is why they never try to make open speeches in factories or on collective farms or in other state organizations. They know very well that they would be thrown out of such meetings. The existence of dissidents in the Soviet Union is only possible because of publicity campaigns in the foreign press, and support for them through diplomatic, secret and other special services who pay 'dissidents' generously in foreign currency and by other means. There is no difference between the payment which secret services makes to their own agents and to dissidents."
The secret service also booked successes in steeling technical secrets and equipment from the West, which made him very popular among the army
's top people.
Andropov's popularity brought him the job of Secretary-General after Brezhnev's death in November 1982, nominated by his later successor Konstantin Chernenko who argued:
"He will continue the Brezhnev style of leadership, Brezhnev's care for the interests of the people, Brezhnev's comradely relations with the party cadres".
Half a year later he was Head of State as well, but a kidney disease stood in the way. He was not seen in public anymore after August 1983 and died on February 9, 1984. His protégé Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed the new leader of the Communist Party after the short Chernenko intermezzo.