Obituaries: Marshal Viktor Chebrikov

VIKTOR CHEBRIKOV'S rise in the Soviet state and party apparatus was a model of the patronage system, especially with Leonid Brezhnev in power.

Viktor Mikhailovich Chebrikov was born in Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine in 1923. In 1944, while serving in the army, he joined the CPSU. He graduated in 1950 from the Metallurgical Institute of his home town and the following year began his career as a party worker. By 1961 he had become First Secretary of the Dnepropetrovsk City Committee of the Ukrainian CP, during which time he became a protege of Brezhnev, who maintained a strong power-base in his own home territory.

In 1967 he formally entered his career in the KGB with his appointment as head of KGB personnel, a position in which he could ensure that the interests of his patron, now General Secretary Brezhnev, were protected in an organisation run by Yuri Andropov, who was not a Brezhnev protege.

A year later Chebrikov became a deputy chairman of the KGB, a post he held until late 1982 when Andropov became General Secretary following Brezhnev's death, and he soon became Chairman. Andropov promoted him to candidate membership of the Politburo in 1983, and in 1985, having supported Gorbachev in his bid for the leadership, Chebrikov was made a full member of the Politburo.

Like many of the other members of the supreme ruling body, Chebrikov was not a true reformer. "Reform" for them meant tightening things up, improving discipline and planning. A colourless bureaucrat, Chebrikov shared the delusion that all the necessary institutions were already in place for the Soviet economy to achieve its full potential.

Clearly, a real detente with the West that allowed the redeployment of scarce resources to non-defence needs would be welcome, and Mikhail Gorbachev's overtures in this direction were therefore supported. Nothing in his life had prepared him, however, for the consequences of allowing open debate of the country's options, let alone permitting Western opinions to colour that debate.

Increasingly, Chebrikov, a policeman to the marrow of his bones, resisted Gorbachev's liberalising initiatives, as no doubt any diligent KGB chief before him would have done. Gorbachev obviously did not anticipate the full extent of the consequences of his actions, but by keeping the KGB in check there was little he himself could do to rein in the forces he had unleashed.

Chebrikov was an outspoken critic of the new political climate and by late 1988 it was time for Gorbachev to move him aside. He was replaced as KGB Chairman by Vladimir Kryuchkov, and after only a year as a senior secretary of the Central Committee and chairman of the Commission on Legal Policy - posts intended to assuage offended feelings in the KGB - in September 1989 he was finally put out to grass.

A true hardliner who in 1987 had complained that in the 1930s Stalin had liquidated 20,000 "honest Chekists", Chebrikov remained completely unreconciled to the post-Communist regime. For their part, his successors, the Federal Security Service, have lamented the passing of "a true professional".

Viktor Mikhaliovich Chebrikov, government servant: born Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine 27 April 1923; died Moscow 2 July 1999.

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