Former KGB chairman and Soviet dictator Yuri Andropov was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mentor. As the great historian Anne Applebaum wrote in 2012:
[Putin] initiated a minor cult of Yuri Andropov, the longest-serving KGB boss in Soviet history (1967-1982), as well as general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, a post he held only briefly, in the year before his unexpected death in 1984. As FSB chief, Putin laid flowers on Andropov’s grave, and dedicated a plaque to his hero inside the Lubyanka, the KGB’s notorious Moscow headquarters. Later, as president, he ordered another plaque placed on the Moscow building where Andropov had lived and erected a statue to him in a St. Petersburg suburb.
But Putin wanted to restore more than Andropov’s name. He also, it seems, wanted to restore the old KGB boss’s way of thinking. Andropov, in Soviet terms, was a modernizer–but not a democrat. On the contrary, having been the Russian ambassador to Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, Andropov understood very precisely the danger that “democrats” and other freethinking intellectuals posed to totalitarian regimes. He spent much of his KGB career stamping out dissident movements of various kinds, locking people in prison, expelling them from the USSR, and sending them to psychiatric hospitals, a form of punishment invented during his tenure.
The excuse the Soviets used to justify the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution was to claim that it was actually the only way to beat an uprising of fascists and Nazis. (Sound familiar?)
February was the 30th anniversary of Andropov’s death (or as the New York Post headlined: “Andropov Drops Off”), and the Kremlin has a penchant for symbolism. Putin is replicating his hero Andropov’s actions with a big anniversary of his passing.
It was during Andropov’s dictatorship that President Ronald Reagan instituted many of the policies that brought down the Soviet Union. This included branding them the Evil Empire, initiating SDI, installing Pershing-II missiles in Europe, and the outright liberation of one of the Kremlin’s chess pieces (Grenada). All of which showed the Kremlin that the days of messing with the free world were over.
But unfortunately, it seems like the days of messing with the free world aren’t over anymore.