November 12

This Day in History

Cold War

Nov 12, 1982:

Yuri Andropov assumes power in the Soviet Union

Following the death of long-time Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev two days earlier, Yuri Andropov is selected as the new general secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. It was the culmination of a long, but steady march up the Communist Party hierarchy for Andropov.
Born in Russia in 1914, by the 1930s Andropov was an active participant in the Communist Youth League. During World War II, he led a group of guerilla fighters who operated behind Nazi lines. His work led to various positions in Moscow, and in 1954, he was named as Soviet ambassador to Hungary. During the Hungarian crisis of 1956, Andropov proved his reliability. He lied to Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy about Soviet military intentions, and later assured Nagy that he was safe from Soviet reprisals. Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest in November 1956 and Nagy was captured and executed in 1958.

Andropov's work in Hungary brought him back to Moscow, where he continued to rise through the ranks of the Communist Party. In 1967, he was named head of the KGB, Russia's secret police force. A hard-liner, he supported the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and oversaw the crackdown on dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn. In 1982, with Brezhnev deathly ill and fading fast, Andropov left the KGB and began jockeying for power. When Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982, Andropov was poised to assume power. He was named general secretary on November 12.

His rule was short-lived, but eventful. At home, he tried to reinvigorate the flagging Russian economy and attacked corruption and rising alcoholism among the Soviet people. In his foreign policy, Andropov faced off against the adamantly anticommunist diplomacy of President Ronald Reagan. Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were severely strained when Soviet pilots shot down a Korean airliner in September 1983. Later that year, Soviet diplomats broke off negotiations concerning reductions in Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces and the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). Andropov had suffered from nearly debilitating illnesses since early 1983, and died on February 9, 1984. He was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko .

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