Chernenko, Konstantin (Russia)

Reference work entry


Konstantin Chernenko led the Soviet Union between 1984 and 1985. A favourite of Brezhnev, he was defeated in the 1982 contest to succeed him as general secretary by Yuri Andropov. Chernenko came to office after the death of Andropov in 1984 but was soon beset by ill-health and achieved little while in office.

Early Life

Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko was born on 24 Sept. 1911 (11 Sept. by the Orthodox calendar) in Bolshaya Tes in the Yeniseysk region of Russia. In 1930 he served with the frontier guards on the Sino-Soviet border. The following year he joined the Communist Party, having joined Komsomol (the junior branch of the party) 5 years earlier.

He became a producer of propaganda for Stalin and in 1941 was named director of the Krasnoyarsk territorial party committee. He attended the higher school for party organizers from 1943 until 1945 and 8 years later completed his studies at the Kishinev pedagogical institute. Between 1948 and 1956 he was responsible for agitation and propaganda for Moldavia. In 1956, having gained the notice of Leonid Brezhnev, he took up an equivalent position in Moscow. When Brezhnev became general secretary in 1964 he appointed Chernenko chief-of-staff. Chernenko became a full member of the central committee 7 years later and in 1978 won full membership of the politburo.

As it became apparent during 1982 that Brezhnev’s health was rapidly deteriorating, Chernenko began to rally support to succeed him. However, in Nov. 1982 he was defeated by Yuri Andropov, who was able to call on support from the KGB (which he had previously headed) and the emerging generation of reformers (including Mikhail Gorbachev). Andropov was immediately beset by ill health and when he died in Feb. 1984 Chernenko was selected to replace him as general secretary.

Career Peak

Chernenko also assumed the chairmanship of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in April 1984. Gorbachev, Andropov’s favoured successor, was promoted to second in the party hierarchy. Chernenko was widely perceived as a conservative throwback to the stagnation of the later Brezhnev years. Domestically he achieved little and party privilege remained undiminished. In foreign policy he brokered trade agreements with China but relations with Ronald Reagan’s US deteriorated, despite agreement in Jan. 1985 to a new round of arms talks. Chernenko suffered from poor health throughout his tenure and died in Moscow on 10 March 1985.

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