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The Chernenko Interregnum

At seventy-two, Konstantin Chernenko was in poor health and unable to play an active role in policy making when he was chosen, after lengthy discussion, to succeed Andropov. But Chernenko's short time in office did bring some significant policy changes. The personnel changes and investigations into corruption undertaken by the Andropov regime came to an end. Chernenko advocated more investment in consumer goods and services and in agriculture. He also called for a reduction in the CPSU's micromanagement of the economy and greater attention to public opinion. However, KGB repression of Soviet dissidents also increased. Stalin was rehabilitated as a diplomat and a military leader, and there was discussion of returning the name Stalingrad to the city whose name had been changed back to Volgograd during the anti-Stalinist wave of the 1950s. The one major personnel change that Chernenko made was the firing of the chief of the General Staff, Nikolay Ogarkov, who had advocated less spending on consumer goods in favor of greater expenditures on weapons research and development.

Although Chernenko had called for renewed détente with the West, little progress was made toward closing the rift in East-West relations during his rule. The Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, retaliating for the United States boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. In the late summer of 1984, the Soviet Union also prevented a visit to West Germany by East German leader Erich Honecker. Fighting in Afghanistan also intensified, but in the late autumn of 1984 the United States and the Soviet Union did agree to resume arms control talks in early 1985.

The poor state of Chernenko's health made the question of succession an acute one. Chernenko gave Gorbachev high party positions that provided significant influence in the Politburo, and Gorbachev was able to gain the vital support of Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko in the struggle for succession. When Chernenko died in March 1985, Gorbachev was well positioned to assume power.

The Gorbachev Era

In contrast to the uncertain handling of leadership vacancies in 1982 and 1984, upon the death of Chernenko the Politburo acted within hours to choose unanimously the healthy and relatively youthful Gorbachev as general secretary. In his speech before the Central Committee, Gorbachev announced that he would emphasize policies of labor discipline and increased productivity, calling for a "scientific and technological revolution" to revive heavy industry.

Data as of July 1996