The story

Chernenko becomes general secretary of Soviet Communist Party


Following the death of Yuri Andropov four days earlier, Konstantin Chernenko takes over as the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the ruling position in the Soviet Union. Chernenko was the last of the Russian communist “hard-liners” prior to the ascension to power of the reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985.

Before becoming general secretary, Chernenko was little known outside of the Soviet Union. Born in 1911, he became active in communist organizations in Russia during the late-1920s. In 1931, he formally joined the Soviet Communist Party. He became something of an expert in the area of propaganda and held several lower level positions in the government during the 1940s. His fortunes changed dramatically after he became acquainted with Leonid Brezhnev in the 1950s. Brezhnev took Chernenko under his wing and as Brezhnev rose through the party hierarchy during the 1950s and 1960s, Chernenko climbed to higher levels in the Soviet bureaucracy. Brezhnev became general secretary in 1964 and served until his death in 1982. Chernenko seemed a natural choice to succeed his former mentor, but reformists within the Soviet government turned instead to Andropov. When Andropov became ill and died just 15 months later, Chernenko’s supporters overrode the reformists and he took over as general secretary.

Chernenko’s brief rule was characterized by a return to the hard-line policies of Brezhnev. He pulled back from supporting the few economic and political reforms instituted by Andropov. Russian foreign policy took on a harsher tone, and the Soviets retaliated for the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympic games held in Moscow by refusing to attend the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles. Declining health during the last several months of his rule, however, prevented Chernenko from making much of an impression either domestically or internationally. When he died on March 10, 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev took power and began his program of dramatic economic reforms and his efforts at improving relations with the United States, which led to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

READ MORE: Collapse of the Soviet Union


Prominent Russians: Konstantin Chernenko

Chernenko's path to power was a breathtaking series of successes that lead him from an obscure Siberian village to the very peak of Soviet power. He was born into a large and impoverished family in the village of Bolshaya Tes' (a Cossack settlement situated in the Krasnoyarsk territory) on September the 24th (September the 11th according to the old Orthodox calendar) 1911.

Although his name is Ukrainian, his official biographers describe him as an ethnic Russian, whose his family migrated from Ukraine to southern Siberia, where they came to consider themselves Russian. His father, Ustin Demidovich, worked in copper and gold mining while his mother took care of the farm. Konstantin lost his mother when he was still a small boy and at the age of 12 was sent to work at a rich master's farm to earn a living.


Further Reading

An interesting study by Valerie Bunce, Do New Leaders Make A Difference? (1981) explores the general problems of executive succession and public policy under socialism in a comparative way and provides some clues to the listless nature of Chernenko's administration. George Breslauer, Khrushchev and Brezhnev as Leaders (1982) discusses Brezhnev's administration in detail. It is an excellent introduction to Chernenko's political milieu, as well as a good indicator of his own political style. See also Seweryn Bialer, Stalin's Successors (1980).


Death and legacy [ edit | edit source ]

Chernenko started smoking at the age of nine, Γ] and he was always known to be a heavy smoker as an adult. Δ] Long before his election as Soviet chairman he had developed emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and right-sided heart failure. In 1983 he had been absent from his duties for three months due to bronchitis, pleurisy and pneumonia.

In the spring of 1984, Chernenko was hospitalized for over a month, but kept working by sending the Politburo notes and letters. During the summer, his doctors sent him to Kislovodsk for the mineral spas, but on the day of his arrival at the resort Chernenko's health deteriorated, and he contracted pneumonia. Chernenko did not return to the Kremlin until the late autumn of 1984. He awarded Orders to cosmonauts and writers in his office, but was unable to walk through the corridors of his office and was driven in a wheelchair.

By the end of 1984, Chernenko could hardly leave the Central Clinical Hospital, a heavily guarded facility in west Moscow, and the Politburo was affixing a facsimile of his signature to all letters, as Chernenko had done with Andropov's when he was dying. Chernenko's illness was first acknowledged publicly on 22 February 1985 during a televised election rally in Kuibyshev Borough of northeast Moscow, where the General Secretary stood as candidate for the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR, when Politburo member Viktor Grishin revealed that the General Secretary was absent in accordance with doctors' advice. Ε] Two days later, in a televised scene that shocked the nation, Ζ] Grishin dragged the terminally ill Chernenko from his hospital bed to a ballot box to vote. Η] On 28 February 1985, Chernenko appeared once more on television to receive parliamentary credentials and read out a brief statement on his electoral victory: the election campaign is over and now it is time to carry out the tasks set for us by the voters and the Communists who have spoken out. Ε]

Emphysema and the associated lung and heart damage worsened significantly for Chernenko in the last three weeks of February 1985. According to the Chief Kremlin physician, Dr. Yevgeny I. Chazov, Chernenko had also developed both chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Β] On 10 March at 3:00 pm he fell into a coma, and died at 7:20 pm. The autopsy showed chronic emphysema, an enlarged and damaged heart, congestive heart failure and cirrhosis of the liver.

Chernenko became the third Soviet leader to die in less than three years, and, upon being informed in the middle of the night of his death, US President Ronald Reagan, who was seven months older than Chernenko and just over three years older than his predecessor Andropov, is reported to have remarked "How am I supposed to get anyplace with the Russians if they keep dying on me?" ⎖]

He was honored with a state funeral and was buried in the Kremlin necropolis – the last person to be interred there.

The impact of Chernenko—or the lack of it—was evident in the way in which his death was reported in the Soviet press. Soviet newspapers carried stories about Chernenko's death and Gorbachev's selection on the same day. The papers had the same format: page 1 reported the party Central Committee session on 11 March that elected Gorbachev and printed the new leader's biography and a large photograph of him page 2 announced the demise of Chernenko and printed his obituary.

After the death of a Soviet leader it was customary for his successors to open his safe and look in it. When Gorbachev had Chernenko's safe opened, it was found to contain a small folder of personal papers and several large bundles of money a large amount of money was also found in his desk. ⎗]


Konstantin Chernenko

(1911–85). The last of the old generation of top Soviet leaders who were born before the Russian Revolution, Konstantin Chernenko held power only briefly, between February 1984 and his death the following March. When he took power at age 72, he became the third Soviet leader in less than two and one-half years, following the deaths of Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov. Chernenko had been a friend and protégé of Brezhnev.

Chernenko was born in the Siberian village of Bolshaya Tes on Sept. 24, 1911. Not much is known about his early life because he grew up during the years of the Russian Revolution and the civil war that followed. He took readily to the new Leninist-Stalinist regime and joined the Komsomol, or Young Communist League, in 1926. Four years later he became a member of the Border Guards and spent several years fighting anti-Communist guerrillas along the Siberia–China border. He became a full member of the Communist party in 1931, and by 1941 he had become secretary of the Krasnoyarsk territorial party committee. Unlike some other Soviet leaders, he did not serve in the armed forces in World War II.

Chernenko met Brezhnev while working for the Communist party in the Moldavian republic from 1948 to 1956. Through Brezhnev’s influence Chernenko came to Moscow in about 1956. He was made chief of staff of the Presidium in 1960 and head of the Central Committee in 1965. Associated as he was with the stagnation and corruption of the late 1970s, Chernenko did not follow Brezhnev as party leader after Brezhnev died in 1982. The early death of Brezhnev’s successor, Andropov, gave Chernenko another chance, and he became general secretary of the Communist party in 1984. His health soon deteriorated, however, and he died on March 10, 1985. He was succeeded by Mikhail Gorbachev, a much younger man.


Timeline: 1985

Deng Xiaoping. He was against becoming another exalted personality and against the distribution of his photograph.

Jan 2 China's Communist Party leader, Deng Xiaoping, speaks of a new ''open door'' policy to the West as the only way to overcome the legacy of ''poverty, backwardness and ignorance'' that had been produced by hundreds of years of isolation.

Jan 6 An eight-day congress of the Chinese Writers' Association concludes with a declaration of their right to ''democracy and freedom.''

Jan 26 South Africa's president, Pieter Botha, promises blacks a greater political voice. He is accused by rightists of selling out Apartheid principles.

Feb 3 A Gallup poll shows President Reagan&rsquos approval rating at 62 percent.

Feb 11 Nelson Mandela, former guerrilla leader, in prison since 1962, refuses President Botha's offer of release on condition that he renounce violence. Mandela says violence would not be necessary with democracy. Mandela will remain in prison five more years.

Feb 28 In Northern Ireland the IRA carries on its war against England with a mortar attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Mar 11 In the Soviet Union, Konstantin Chernenko dies. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes General Secretary of the Soviet Union's Communist Party.

Mar 16 In Lebanon a civil war still rages. Since 1982 Shia militants have been kidnapping and holding Westerners hostage. Today, Associated Press newsman Terry Anderson, from Ohio, is kidnapped.

Apr 8 Gorbachev announces his first unilateral initiative: a temporary freeze on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe. He calls on the US to respond with a similar freeze.

Apr 15 South Africa ends its ban on interracial marriages.

Jun 3 In Beirut, CIA agent William Francis Buckley has been held captive since March, 1984. On or around this day he dies of medical neglect. His death is not announced.

Jun 6 Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres orders most of Israel's troops withdrawn from Lebanon. A small force is to remain in a 15 kilometer-wide area to buffer attacks against Israel from hostile forces in Lebanon.

Jun 6 The US Senate authorizes non-military aid of $38 million to the "Contras" &ndash a guerrilla group waging war against the Nicaraguan government.

Jun 9 In Beirut, Thomas Sutherland, the Dean of Agriculture at the American University in Beirut, is taken hostage.

Jun 14 In Athens, Greece, two Lebanese Shia, said to be members of Hezbollah, smuggle pistols and a grenade aboard TWA Flight 847. A third man in the hijacking party, Ali Atwa, had been bumped from the flight. The pilot is forced to land in Beirut. Most of the passengers are from the United States. One of them, a young man in the US Navy, Robert Stethem, is singled out, beaten and his dead body dumped on the tarmac. The leader of the operation is Imad Mughniyeh of Hezbollah.

Jun 17 All but 40 of the passengers on the hijacked airline are released. One of the forty, who has heart trouble, is soon to be released.

Jun 25 Irish police arrest 13 IRA terrorists suspected of plotting bombings.

Jun 30 Ali Atwa, an accomplice in the highjacking of TWA Flight 847, has been arrested by Greek authorities. The thirty-nine hostages aboard the plane in Lebanon are released in exchange for Ali Atwa. In weeks to come Israel will release more than 700 Shia prisoners, while claiming that the release is unrelated to the hijacking.

Jul 10 The Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior is bombed and sunk in Auckland, New Zealand, by members of France's foreign intelligence agency, DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure).

Jul 18 President Reagan approves National Security Advisor William McFarlane's plan for better relations with Iran. MacFarlane wants to help Iran in its war against Iraq. Reagan is interested in Iran using its influence on those fellow Shia holding hostages in Beirut.

Jul 18 Secretary of Defense Weinberger, CIA chief William Casey and other hardliners remain in principle opposed to a summit meeting with leaders of the Soviet Union, and, if there was to be one, they prefer Gorbachev coming to Washington &ndash a show of subordination. Encouraged by Secretary of State George Schultz, Reagan accepts a summit meeting at Geneva, Switzerland.

Jul 25 Israeli representatives meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Ghorbanifar. Israel will sell arms to Iran and the US will compensate Israel by sending it arms.

Sep 23 The cover story for Time Magazine describes moves in the Communist world away from socialism, including Bulgaria having allowed "the establishment of a string of largely autonomous companies that offer bonuses or other incentives," Hungary tinkering with market mechanisms, and Poland having 75 percent of its farming in private hands and small restaurants and shops. The focus of the article is China, where industries set their own prices, work for profit, are free to fire employees and are allowed to create joint ventures with foreign capitalists.

Sep 25 Terrorists belonging to Force 17, a group associated with the PLO, murder three Israeli citizens on their yacht in Larnaca, Cyprus.

Oct 1 In retaliation for the murders in Cyprus, Israel sends military aircraft against the PLO headquarters in Tunis, killing 65 people and wounding bystanders.

Oct 2 Rock Hudson dies of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), the product of a virus first identified in 1983, now receiving more attention.

Oct 8 Abdul Abbas, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, has planned the hijacking of an Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro. The Palestinian commandos shoot an elderly Jewish-American, Leon Klinghoffer, and push him in his wheelchair overboard.

Nov 10 President Reagan's National Security Advisor, Robert McFarland, has been concerned about the president's reliance on generalities about the Soviet Union, including use of "Nikolai Lenin" rather than the correct "Vladimir Lenin." For weeks Reagan has been studying papers given him by the State Department, 24 ten-page papers, one or two per week, in what aids jokingly call "Soviet Union 101." Reagan has also been watching movies made in the Soviet Union to sharpen his grasp of the humanity of the Russian people. (See Summits by David Reynolds, p. 357-58.)

Nov 15 In the Washington Post a rift between "moderates" and "hardliners" within the Reagan administration is suggested. The paper publishes a letter by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger urging President Reagan not to compromise SDI at the upcoming Geneva Summit with Gorbachev.

Nov 19 Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev hold a "fireside" summit in Geneva. Reagan tries to assure Gorbachev that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) called Star Wars would not be used to launch a first strike against the USS.R.

Nov 20 Microsoft Corporation releases Windows 1.0.

Nov 21 Gorbachev has decided to cut off negotiations because he was having no success persuading Reagan to drop SDI. Gorbachev and Reagan pledge to meet again and seek a 50 percent cut in nuclear arms.

Nov 23 Three members of an Abu Nidal's group hijack an Egyptian airliner in Athens, Greece, and force the plane to head to Libya. An Egyptian security guard kills one of the highjackers and is killed. The plane is forced to land in Malta and refused refueling.

Nov 25 The hijackers have released two injured stewardesses and have begun shooting passengers, the first an Israeli woman. Egyptian commandos storm the plane. Fifty-six of the eighty-eight aboard the plane, including the highjackers, are killed.

Dec 7 Three members of the Reagan administration, George Shultz, Casper Weinberger and Donald Regan, advise Reagan to stop sales of arms to Iran.

Dec 27 Abu Nidal terrorists attack holiday travelers in the airports of Rome and Vienna. Eighteen vacationers die and 120 are injured.

Dec 31 Sometime around now, said to be the mid-1980s, in the Darfur region of the Sudan, climate change and a gradual trend toward desertification is making it more difficult for land to support both herder and farmer. There are farmers In Darfur who are no longer allowing nomadic herders to migrate across their land. A conflict is in the making between famers and the Arab speaking nomads whose militia, on horseback and camel, will be known as the Janjaweed.


Cold War

Before becoming general secretary, Chernenko was little known outside of the Soviet Union. Born in 1911, he became active in communist organizations in Russia during the late-1920s. In 1931, he formally joined the Soviet Communist Party. He became something of an expert in the area of propaganda and held several lower level positions in the government during the 1940s. His fortunes changed dramatically after he became acquainted with Leonid Brezhnev in the 1950s. Brezhnev took Chernenko under his wing and as Brezhnev rose through the party hierarchy during the 1950s and 1960s, Chernenko climbed to higher levels in the Soviet bureaucracy. Brezhnev became general secretary in 1964 and served until his death in 1982. Chernenko seemed a natural choice to succeed his former mentor, but reformists within the Soviet government turned instead to Andropov. When Andropov became ill and died just 15 months later, Chernenko's supporters overrode the reformists and he took over as general secretary.

Havel was the son of a wealthy restaurateur whose property was confiscated by the communist government of Czechoslovakia in 1948. As the son of bourgeois parents, Havel was denied easy access to education but managed to finish high school and study on the university level. He found work as a stagehand in a Prague theatrical company in 1959 and soon began writing plays with Ivan Vyskočil. By 1968 Havel had progressed to the position of resident playwright of the Theatre of the Balustrade company. He was a prominent participant in the liberal reforms of 1968 (known as the Prague Spring), and, after the Soviet clampdown on Czechoslovakia that year, his plays were banned and his passport was confiscated. During the 1970s and '80s he was repeatedly arrested and served four years in prison (1979-83) for his activities on behalf of human rights in Czechoslovakia. After his release from prison Havel remained in his homeland.

Havel's first solo play, Zahradní slavnost (1963 The Garden Party), typified his work in its absurdist, satirical examination of bureaucratic routines and their dehumanizing effects. In his best-known play, Vyrozumění (1965 The Memorandum), an incomprehensible artificial language is imposed on a large bureaucratic enterprise, causing the breakdown of human relationships and their replacement by unscrupulous struggles for power. In these and subsequent works Havel explored the self-deluding rationalizations and moral compromises that characterize life under a totalitarian political system. Havel continued to write plays steadily until the late 1980s these works include Ztížená možnost soustředění (1968 The Increased Difficulty of Concentration) Spiklenci (1971 The Conspirators) the three one-act plays Audience (1975), Vernisáž (1975 Private View), and Protest (1978) Largo Desolato (1985) and Zítra to Spustíme (1988 Tomorrow).

When massive antigovernment demonstrations erupted in Prague in November 1989, Havel became the leading figure in the Civic Forum, a new coalition of noncommunist opposition groups pressing for democratic reforms. In early December the Communist Party capitulated and formed a coalition government with the Civic Forum. As a result of an agreement between the partners in this bloodless "Velvet Revolution," Havel was elected to the post of interim president of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989, and he was reelected to the presidency in July 1990, becoming the country's first noncommunist leader since 1948. As the Czechoslovak union faced dissolution in 1992, Havel, who opposed the division, resigned from office. The following year he was elected president of the new Czech Republic. His political role, however, was limited, as Prime Minister Václav Klaus (1993-97) commanded much of the power. In 1998 Havel was reelected by a narrow margin, and, under his presidency, the Czech Republic joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999. Barred constitutionally from seeking a third term, he stepped down as president in 2003.


Konstantin Chernenko

Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985) was the leader of the Soviet Union for a brief period in the mid-1980s.

Chernenko was born into poverty in western Siberia, the son of a miner. He worked on the family farm as a boy, while completing his education. Chernenko joined the Communist Youth League at age 17 and the Communist Party two years later. He served in the Soviet Red Army in the early 1930s, then became a party propagandist.

By the 1950s, Chernenko was a high ranking party functionary and a protege of Leonid Brezhnev. When Brezhnev replaced Nikita Khrushchev as Soviet leader in 1964, Chernenko was seconded into the government. In 1971 he was elevated into the Central Committee, then the Politburo in 1978.

When General Secretary Yuri Andropov died in February 1984, Chernenko was elected to replace him. It was a surprising move, given Chernenko’s own age, career and poor health. The 73-year-old was a capable behind-the-scenes administrator – but he was not a policy expert, a statesman or a natural leader. Chernenko was also terminally ill, riddled with emphysema and heart problems from a lifetime of smoking, so was not a long-term leadership prospect. Many believe he was elected by conservatives to prevent Mikhail Gorbachev (Andropov’s nominated successor) from becoming leader.

During his brief tenure, Chernenko sought to restore Moscow’s trade and diplomatic relations with China. He did little to ease US-Soviet relations, however, sometimes matching Ronald Reagan‘s bellicose public remarks. In May 1984, Chernenko ruled that Soviet athletes would boycott the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

By late 1984, Chernenko was gravely ill and spent most of his time in hospital. He died in March 1985, aged 73, after just 13 months as General Secretary.


President Konstantin Chernenko, who took power 13 months ago.

MOSCOW -- President Konstantin Chernenko, who took power 13 months ago, died Sunday and was succeeded today by Mikhail Gorbachev as Communist Party chief, Tass said.

Gorbachev, 54, will be the Soviet Union's fourth leader in the past 28 months and the youngest since Josef Stalin became party chief at the age of 43. Gorbachev's appointment by the party's Central Committee heralds the emergence of a new generation of post-war Soviet leaders.

Following the lightning transfer of power, Gorbachev called on the United States to join Moscow in ending the arms race and banning the development of new weapons, including President Reagan's 'Star Wars' space weapons program.

'Never before has so terrible a threat loomed so large and dark over mankind as these days,' he told the extraordinary session of the party that unanimously elected him General Secretary.

'The only reasonable way out of the existing situation is agreement of the confronting forces on an immediate termination of the race in arms, above all, nuclear arms, on Earth and its prevention in space,' he said referring to Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as 'Star Wars.'

Chernenko, 73, died Sunday night from complications of emphysema, which the official Tass news agency said he suffered 'for a long time.' He will be buried Wednesday.

'Mikhail Gorbachev was unanimously elected General Secretary of the Communist Party at an extraordinary session of the Central Committee,' Tass said four hours after the announcement of Chernenko's death.

Gorbachev had earlier been appointed chairman of Chernenko's funeral committee, a position that virtually guaranteed he would be the next chairman of the Communist Party.

In Washington, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said President Reagan had considered going to Moscow for Chernenko's funeral, but decided against it for logistical difficulties. Vice President George Bush will head the U.S. delegation.

Tass said Chernenko died from chronic emphysema, complicated by a heart deficiency and cirrhosis of the liver.

An autopsy revealed Chernenko 'was suffering for a long time from pulmonary emphysema, complicated by pulmonary and cardiac insufficiency.'

Tass said the report -- signed by the chief Kremlin doctor Yevgeny Chazov and nine other doctors -- said, 'The gravity of the condition was furthered by concomitant chronic hepatitis, which worsened into cirrhosis.

'The heart stopped beating at 7:20 p.m. on March 10, 1985, against the background of worsening hepatic, pulmonary and cardiac insufficiency.'

The obficial news agency made the announcement almost 19 hours after his death, following a night of speculation prompted by programming changes on Soviet media and the premature departures from the United States, West Germany and Yugoslavia of three high-ranking Soviet delegations.

In Geneva, Switzerland, U.S. and Soviet negotiators agreed today to open new arms talks as scheduled on Tuesday despite the death. Officials on both sides pointed out that the opening weeks in any case would mainly consist of the presentation and explanation of basic negotiating positions.

Tass said Gorbachev would lead the 10 remaining members of the ruling Politburo in mourning Chernenko, the Soviet president and Communist Party chief. Chernenko was honored in the same way upon the death of his predecessor Yuri Andropov, as was Andropov upon the death of Leonid Brezhnev in November 1982.

'The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. and the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. announce with deep sorrow to the party and the entire Soviet people that Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko, general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU and president of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet, died at 7:20 p.m. on March 10, 1985, after a grave illness,' Tass said.

Gorbachev, 54, will be the Soviet Union's fourth leader in the past 28 months and the youngest since Vladimir Lenin. His appointment by the party's Central Committee heralds the emergence of a new generation of post-war Soviet leaders.

Chernenko, 73, died Sunday night from complications of emphysema, which the official Tass news agency said he suffered 'for a long time.' He will be buried Wednesday.

'Mikhail Gorbachev was unanimously elected General Secretary of the Communist Party at an extraordinary session of the Central Committee,' Tass said four hours after the announcement of Chernenko's death.

Gorbachev had earlier been appointed chairman of Chernenko's funeral committee, a position that virtually guaranteed he would be the next chairman of the Communist Party.

In Washington, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said President Reagan had considered going to Moscow for Chernenko's funeral, but decided against it for logistical difficulties.

Tass said Chernenko died from chronic emphysema, complicated by a heart deficiency and cirrhosis of the liver.

An autopsy revealed Chernenko 'was suffering for a long time from pulmonary emphysema, complicated by pulmonary and cardiac insufficiency.'

Tass said the report -- signed by the chief Kremlin doctor Yevgeny Chazov and nine other doctors -- said, 'The gravity of the condition was furthered by concomitant chronic hepatitis, which worsened into cirrhosis.

'The heart stopped beating at 7:20 p.m. on March 10, 1985, against the background of worsening hepatic, pulmonary and cardiac insufficiency.'

The official news agency made the announcement almost 19 hours after his death, following a night of speculation prompted by programming changes on Soviet media and the premature departures from the United States, West Germany and Yugoslavia of three high-ranking Soviet delegations.

In Geneva, Switzerland, U.S. and Soviet negotiators agreed today to open new arms talks as scheduled on Tuesday despite the death. Officials on both sides pointed out that the opening weeks in any case would mainly consist of the presentation and explanation of basic negotiating positions.

Tass said Gorbachev would lead the 10 remaining members of the ruling Politburo in mourning Chernenko, the Soviet president and Communist Party chief. Chernenko was honored in the same way upon the death of his predecessor Yuri Andropov, as was Andropov upon the death of Leonid Brezhnev in November 1982.

'The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. and the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. announce with deep sorrow to the party and the entire Soviet people that Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko, general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU and president of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet, died at 7:20 p.m. on March 10, 1985, after a grave illness,' Tass said.

Moscow radio played somber music throughout Sunday night and this morning, providing a strong indication that the ailing leader had died.

A high-level Soviet delegation led by Politburo member Vladimir Shcherbitsky cut short its 10-day visit to the United States Sunday and prepared to return to Moscow today, as did other Soviet delegations visiting Yugoslavia and West Germany.

Shcherbitsky, as a member of the ruling Politburo, will be required to participate in the selection of a new leader and the funeral of Chernenko.

Speculation that Chernenko was seriously ill began last summer, just six months after he took power, when he disappeared from public view for 54 days. Andropov had been absent for six months before his death on Feb. 9, 1984.

The rumors were fueled again in December when Chernenko failed to appear for the Red Square funeral of Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov.

In mid-January, Soviet officials surprised the world by admitting Chernenko was too ill to go abroad for a meeting of Warsaw Pact leaders, but they gave no indication of the nature or seriousness of the illness. Other officials said he was on vacation.

Chernenko's death forces the nation of more than 270 million people into its third leadership change in less than 2 years. The selection of Gorbachev gives the Soviet Union its youngest leader since Lenin became its first premier in 1917 at the age of 47.

Chernenko rose to power under the wing of Brezhnev and was considered a prime candidate to succeed his mentor. However, his influence was eclipsed by the 15-month rule of Yuri Andropov and Chernenko's political career was thought to be on the rocks.

That assessment was proved wrong when the stocky, silver-haired Chernenko was named as head of Andropov's funeral committee in February 1984. Four days later, at the age of 72, he became the oldest man to assume the duties of Communist Party general secretary.

He was seen as a man of the past, a representative of the status quo whose place in history will be recorded as a transitional leader. His death brings the nation into a painful transition that forced Kremlin leaders to choose the younger generaton of leaders over the old guard.

The nation now must grapple with pressing problems, most importantly in its economy and superpower relations, that require a younger, vigorous man if progress is to be made.

Andropov tackled the stagnant economy head-on with campaigns against corruption and worker discipline. Chernenko, in a departure from his mentor, gave tacit support to the programs already underway, but did little to breath fresh air into the system.

Although the Soviets say offichally that their leader has little effect on foreign policy, a vital, respected leader is necessary to gather the consensus required for the far-reaching superpower arms talks to begin this week in Geneva.


Prominent Russians: Yury Andropov

The son of a railway worker, Yury Andropov was born in a small settlement of Nagutskoye near Stavropol in southern Russia (the first and only USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev was born in the same area as well).

In his early years Yuri was a telegraph operator, film projectionist, and boatman on the Volga River before attending a technical college at Rybinsk (he even trained as a water transport engineer and worked for a time in the Rybinnsk shipyards) and, later, Petrozavodsk University. By the early 1930s Andropov was an active participant in the Komsomol.

He became an organizer for the Komsomol in the Yaroslavl region and joined the Communist Party in 1939. His superiors noticed his abilities, and, following the 1940 Soviet-Finnish war, he was made head of the Komsomol in the newly created Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic (1940 – 1956). During World War II, he led a group of partisan fighters who operated behind Nazi lines.

After the war he worked in the local party organization. The turning point in Andropov’s career was his transfer to Moscow in 1951, where he was assigned to the party’s Secretariat staff, considered a training ground for promising young officials.

His work led to various positions in Moscow, and following Stalin's death (March 1953) Andropov was demoted to Budapest as a counselor in the Soviet Embassy, though he was later promoted to ambassador to Hungary (July 1954–March 1957). Over the next three years he watched events that led to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. His steady stream of reports to Moscow warned of growing unrest in Hungary. He also gave his views on the strengths and weaknesses of the Hungarian leadership's position.

Andropov played an important role in the Soviet decision to invade Hungary in 1956 and coordinated the Soviet invasion of that country. Andropov cabled a request for Soviet military assistance to Moscow from Erno Gero, first secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. According to Major General Bela Kiraly, former Hungarian military commander of Budapest, Andropov managed to cunningly addle the Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy about Soviet military intentions, and later assured Nagy that he was safe from Soviet reprisals. During the Hungarian crisis of 1956, Andropov proved his reliability. However, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest in November 1956 and Nagy was captured and executed in 1958.

Andropov then returned to Moscow, rising rapidly through the CPSU and government hierarchy and, in 1967, became head of the KGB. A hard-liner, he supported the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and oversaw the crackdown on political dissidents such as Andrey Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Andropov often met Mikhail Gorbachev while the latter was First CPSU Secretary for the Stavropol territory. Andropov was impressed with his work and used his considerable influence to promote Gorbachev's career.

Yury Andropov was elected to the Politburo in April 1973, and, as Soviet leader Leonid Leonid Brezhnev’s health declined in the mid to late 70s, he began to gradually position himself for succession, resigning from his KGB post in 1982. Andropov was chosen by the Communist Party Central Committee to succeed Brezhnev as General Secretary on November 12, scarcely two days after Brezhnev’s death. It was the culmination of a long, but steady, march up the Communist Party hierarchy for Andropov. He consolidated his power by becoming chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (effectively the president) on June 16, 1983.

During his short-lived, but eventful, rule Andropov made attempts to reinvigorate the flagging USSR economy and reduce growing corruption. He initiated campaigns against rising alcoholism (a special sort of cheaper low-alcohol vodka was produced which got an informal nickname Andropovka) and struggled to increase work discipline amongst the people of Russia. These campaigns were carried out using a typically Soviet administrative approach that was reminiscent of Joseph Stalin's strong-handed reign.

As Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in his memoirs, “First and foremost, Andropov had a brilliant and large personality, generously endowed with gifts by nature, and a true intellectual. He resolutely denounced all the features commonly associated with Brezhnevism – that is, protectionism, in-fighting and intrigues, corruption, moral turpitude, bureaucracy, disorganization and laxity.

Andropov's tough, and sometimes exaggerated, attitude to these problems instilled hope that an end would at last be put to all the outrageous practices, that those who had alienated themselves from the people would be held responsible.

Consequently his actions, though they were sometimes excessive, created hope and were considered the harbingers of general and deeper changes… He realized the need for change, yet Andropov always remained a man of his time, and was one of those who were unable to break through the barrier of old ideas and values.”

Andropov's foreign policy

In his foreign policy, Andropov faced off against the adamantly anticommunist diplomacy of President Ronald Reagan. Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were severely strained when Soviet pilots shot down a Korean airliner in September 1983.

Later that year, Soviet diplomats broke off negotiations concerning reductions in Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces and the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). Later the United States deployed Pershing II missiles in Europe. At the time Ronald Reagan was denouncing the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” that had committed “a crime against humanity” with Yuri Andropov responding that the Reagan Administration had “finally dispelled all illusions” that it could be dealt with.

At a baser level, crude propagandistic vilification prospered: American caricatures of Andropov as a “mutant from outer space” Soviet comparisons of Reagan to Adolf Hitler. Andropov also made little progress in the policy concerning the continuing war in Afghanistan. Still, both leaders were nominated Men of the Year by Time Magazine in 1983.

Samantha Smith - Andropov's personal guest

For the foreigners, Andropov always remained a puzzle because of the mystery surrounding his health and his background as a KGB chief. One of his most notable acts from the Western point of view was an unexpected response to a letter from an American schoolgirl named Samantha Smith and he invited her to the Soviet Union. Samantha actually visited the USSR and later became known as a peace activist before dying in an air crash in 1985.

Ill health overtook Yury Andropov by August 1983, and thereafter he was never seen again in public. After several months of failing health, Andropov died of kidney failure in February 1984. He was succeeded by his former rival, Konstantin Chernenko.


Death and legacy [ edit ]

Chernenko was hospitalized for over a month for a sour stomach in the spring of 1984, but kept working by sending the Politburo notes and letters requesting vodka and pastries. In summer, his doctors sent him to Eytaloadsk for the boiling oil and lithium mineral spas. Upon his arrival at the resort Chernenko's health deteriorated and he complained that Gorbachev had given him the most foul tasting medicine ever. Chernenko did not return to the Kremlin until the late autumn of 1984. He ordered cosmonauts and writers to come to his office to bring him vodka and pastries while spending some time to play poker with him but no one came to visit him.

Chernenko was locked away at the Central Clinical Hospital, a heavily guarded facility in west Moscow, by the end of 1984. The Politburo was affixing a facsimile of his signature to all letters while an assistant was sent to Chernenko's bed to administer medicine to cure his sour stomach, as Chernenko had done with Andropov's when he was dying. When Chernenko was terminally ill he was given more medicine and dragged from his hospital bed to a ballot box to vote in the elections in early 1985.

Chernenko's sour stomach worsened significantly for the last three weeks of February 1985. According to the Chief Kremlin physician, Dr. Hyed I. Poppedov, Chernenko had also developed both chronic syphilis and cirrhosis. On 10 March at 3:00 p.m. he fell into a coma, and at 7:20 p.m. he died of "suspicious causes." He became the third Soviet leader to die in just two years' time. US President Ronald Reagan is reported to have remarked, "Good riddance."

He was honored with a state funeral and was burned in effigy at the Kremlin necropolis.

After the death of a Sovietski leader it was customary for his successors to open his safe and look in it. When Gorbachev had Chernenko's safe opened it was found to contain a giant collection of premier vodkas, poker cards, and poker chips. There were numerous bottles of half-drunk vodka in his desk, in the garbage, on the window sill, and even in the presidential bathroom.

Chernenko was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Women in Labor in 1976. In 1981 and in 1984 he was awarded Hero of the Socialist Women in Labor. During a eulogy, the Minister of Defense Urinov remarked that Chernenko was a "pretty boy who could really clean a toilet, play a mean game of poker, and he loved his vodka." He was awarded with the highest Bulgarian honor of Head Janitor in 1981. In 1982 he received the oxymoronic Lenin Prize for his "Human Rights in Sovietski Society."

During his first marriage he hatched a son, Albert, who would become noted in the Sovietski Onion as a gigolo. He bonded with his second wife in 1944. Annya Dmentedvna Lyarova (b. 1913) hatched two daughters, Yolanda (who worked at the Institute of Party Hysteria) and Vera (who worked for the Mayflower Madame in Washington, DC) in the United States, and a son, Vladimir, who followed Chernenko's brother, Vladimir, in the circus. His third wife was famed Go-Gos lead singer, Balinda Carlisle. She met him on a vacation, which was all she ever wanted because she had to get away.

He had a Dacha in Troitse-Lykovo named Snotka-3 by the Moskva River with a private beach.

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