Soviet Union Table of Contents
The office of chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet before 1989 was little more than a ceremonial and diplomatic convenience. The chairman had the formal authority to sign treaties and to receive the credentials of diplomatic representatives. The power of the person occupying the office stemmed from other positions that person may have held. In the past, CPSU general secretaries who also served as chairmen of the Presidium have given priority to their party duties rather than to the ceremonial duties of the chairmanship. Taking this consideration into account, the 1977 Constitution provided for the office of first deputy chairman to relieve the chairman of most ceremonial duties. When the chairmanship has been vacant, the first deputy chairman has acted in his place, as Vasilii Kuznetsov did after Brezhnev's death and before Iurii V. Andropov assumed the chairmanship. Gorbachev assumed the office of chairman in October 1988. The 1988 amendments and additions to the Constitution retained the post of first deputy chairman in recognition of its usefulness in relieving the legislative burden on the person occupying the positions of general secretary of the party and chairman of the Supreme Soviet.
The 1988 amendments and additions to the Constitution substantially altered the status of the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet by making him also chairman of the Supreme Soviet and having him elected by the Congress of People's Deputies. By designating a formal chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the Constitution changed the status of the head of state from a collective Presidium to a single chairman. Also, the Constitution for the first time listed responsibilities of the chairman of the Supreme Soviet. These responsibilities included the exercise of leadership over the preparation of agendas of the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet, the signing of laws and treaties, the negotiation of treaties, the submission of reports on domestic and foreign policy, and the submission of candidates for first deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, members of the Constitutional Oversight Committee, chairman of the Council of Ministers, and other candidates for leading government posts. The Constitution also stipulated that the chairman of the Supreme Soviet head the Defense Council, a body that determined broad military policy and funding.
Data as of May 1989