Yuri Andropov, the former Soviet leader and long-time head of the KGB, had an acute personal interest in UFOs and ordered a 13-year programme that required every soldier in the military to monitor sightings over Russian territory, according to new revelations.
Andropov shunned the splendour enjoyed by many Soviet leaders to live in a sparse flat throughout his 15 years as KGB chief and one year as Secretary-General of the Communist Party.
Igor Sinitsin, who worked as an aide to Andropov in the Politburo for six years and has just written his memoirs, told The Observer that in 1977 he discovered that Andropov kept a file on the phenomena in his desk.
At the time there had been fevered speculation in the Soviet Union about a large unidentified object in the skies over Petrozavosk on 20 September, 1977. Sinitsin, now 70, said that one of his responsibilities was to monitor the foreign press and he brought Andropov a Stern magazine piece about UFOs.
‘I dictated a summary of the piece to my secretary and was sure to express some doubts, because you know how sceptical the mood was in Soviet times to such stories. I worried he would be concerned about my mental health, but I dared to hand the summary to him.’
Sinitsin was shocked by the staid KGB chief’s reaction. Andropov handed him the text of an official report he had ordered from the counter-espionage directorate. ‘It described a UFO appearance in Astrakhan that an officer had seen while fishing.’
Through Andropov’s personal interest, in 1978 two committees were established to investigate UFOs, one military and one civilian. Andropov ordered four million Soviet soldiers to file detailed reports of incidents.
Most cases had a ‘rational explanation and were mainly linked to technical issues like missile launches’.