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Константин Черненко
Konstantin Chernenko

In office
13 February 1984 – 10 March 1985
Preceded by Yuri Andropov
Succeeded by Mikhail Gorbachev

In office
11 April 1984 – 10 March 1985
Preceded by Yuri Andropov
Vasily Kuznetsov (acting)
Succeeded by Andrei Gromyko
Vasily Kuznetsov (acting)

Born 24 September 1911(1911-09-24)
Bolshaya Tes, Yeniseysk Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 10 March 1985 (aged 73)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Religion None (Atheism)

Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko (Russian: Константи́н Усти́нович Черне́нко, Konstantin Ustinovič Černenko; 24 September 1911 – 10 March 1985) was a Soviet politician and the sixth General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He led the Soviet Union from 13 February 1984, until his death just thirteen months later on 10 March 1985. Chernenko was also Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 11 April 1984, until his death.


Early life

Konstantin Chernenko during his Border Guard service.

Chernenko was born to a poor family in the village of Bolshaya Tes (now in Novosyolovo Rayon, Krasnoyarsk Krai). His father, Ustin Demidovich (has a Ukrainian origine), worked in copper and gold mines while his mother took care of the farm work. Chernenko joined the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) in 1929, and became a full member of the Communist Party in 1931. From 1930 to 1933, he served in the Soviet frontier guards on the Soviet-Chinese border. After completing his military service, he returned to Krasnoyarsk as a propagandist. In 1933 he worked in the Propaganda Department of the Novoselovo District Party Committee. A few years later he was promoted head of the same department in Uyarsk Raykom. Chernenko then steadily rose through the Party ranks; becoming the Director of the Krasnoyarsk House of Party Enlightenment then in 1939, the Deputy Head of the AgitProp Department of Krasnoyarsk Territorial Committee and finally, in 1941 he was appointed Secretary of the Territorial Party Committee for Propaganda. In 1945, he acquired a diploma from a party training school in Moscow, and in 1953 he finished a correspondence course for schoolteachers.

The turning point in Chernenko’s career was his assignment in 1948 to head the Communist Party’s propaganda department in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. There, he met and won the confidence of Leonid Brezhnev, the first secretary of Moldova from 1950 to 1952 and future leader of the Soviet Union. Chernenko followed Brezhnev in 1956 to fill a similar propaganda post in the CPSU Central Committee in Moscow. In 1960, after Brezhnev was named chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (titular head of state of the Soviet Union), Chernenko became his chief of staff.


Politburo career

In 1964 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was deposed, and succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev. During Brezhnev's tenure as Party leader, Chernenko's career continued successfully. He was nominated in 1965 as head of the General Department of the Central Committee, and given the mandate to set the Politburo agenda, and prepare drafts of numerous Central Committee decrees and resolutions. He also monitored telephone and wiretapping devices in various offices of the top Party members. Another one of his jobs was to sign hundreds of Party documents daily, a job he did for the next 20 years. Even after he became General Secretary of the Party, he continued to sign papers referring to the General Department (when he could no longer physically sign documents, a facsimile was used instead).

In 1971 Chernenko was promoted to full membership in the Central Committee: Overseeing Party work over the Letter Bureau, dealing with correspondence. In 1976 he was elected secretary of the Letter Bureau. 1977 he became Candidate, 1978 full member of the Politburo, serving second to the General Secretary in terms of Party hierarchy.

During Brezhnev's final years, Chernenko became fully immersed in ideological Party work: Heading Soviet delegations abroad, accompanying Brezhnev to important meetings and conferences, and was a member of the commission that revised the Soviet Constitution in 1977. In 1979 he took part in the Vienna arms limitation talks.

After Brezhnev's death in November 1982, there was speculation the position of General Secretary would fall to Chernenko, however he was unable to rally enough popular support for his candidacy within the Party, and the posting fell to former KGB chief Yuri Andropov.

Leader of the Soviet Union

Yuri Andropov died in February 1984, after just 15 months in office. Chernenko was then elected to replace Andropov, despite concerns over his own ailing health, and against Andropov's wishes (he stated he wanted Gorbachev to succeed him). Yegor Ligachev writes in his memoirs that Chernenko was elected general secretary without a hitch. At the Central Committee plenary session on 13 February 1984, four days after Andropov's death, Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers and Politburo member Nikolai Tikhonov moved that Chernenko be elected general secretary, and the Committee duly voted him in.

Arkady Volsky, an aide to Andropov and other general secretaries, recounts an episode that occurred after a Politburo meeting on the day following Andropov's demise: As Politburo members filed out of the conference hall, either Andrei Gromyko or (in later accounts) Dmitriy Ustinov is said to have put his arm round Nikolai Tikhonov's shoulders and said: "It's okay, Kostya is an agreeable guy (pokladisty muzhik), one can do business with him...." Even more irksome was the Politburo's failure to pass the decision for Gorbachev, who was nominally Chernenko's second in command, to run the meetings of the Politburo itself in the absence of Chernenko, who predictably began to miss those meetings with increasing frequency. As Nikolai Ryzhkov describes it in his memoirs, "every Thursday morning he (Mikhail Gorbachev) would sit in his office like a little orphan - I would often be present at this sad procedure - nervously awaiting a telephone call from the sick Chernenko: Would he come to the Politburo himself or would he ask Gorbachev to stand in for him this time again?"

Chernenko in 1984, just months before his death.

At Andropov's funeral, he could barely read the eulogy. Those present strained to catch the meaning of what he was trying to say in his eulogy. He spoke rapidly, swallowed his words, kept coughing and stopped repeatedly to wipe his lips and forehead. He ascended Lenin's Mausoleum by way of a newly installed escalator and descended with the help of two bodyguards. Chernenko represented a return to the policies of the late Brezhnev era. Nevertheless, he supported a greater role for the labour unions, and reform in education and propaganda. 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.

In foreign policy, he negotiated a trade pact with the People's Republic of China. Despite calls for renewed détente, Chernenko did little to prevent the escalation of the Cold War with the United States. For example, in 1984, the Soviet Union prevented a visit to West Germany by East German leader Erich Honecker. However, in the late autumn of 1984, the U.S. and the Soviet Union did agree to resume arms control talks in early 1985. In November 1984 Chernenko met with Britain's Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock.

Because the U.S. had boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow, the USSR, while under the Administration of Chairman Chernenko, boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. It caused 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies including the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany (but not Romania) to boycott these Olympics. The USSR announced its intention not to participate on 8 May 1984, citing security concerns and stating, that "chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States"[1], but some saw it as revenge for the boycott of the Moscow Games. Among those subscribing to the revenge hypothesis was Peter Ueberroth, who was the chief organizer of the Games, in a press conference after the boycott was announced. Iran was the only country that was absent from both Moscow's and Los Angeles' Olympics. The People's Republic of China competed in Los Angeles' games after boycotting Moscow's. For differing reasons, Iran and Libya also boycotted the 1984 event. The boycott was announced on the same day that the Olympic Torch Relay through the United States began in New York City.

The boycott influenced a large number of Olympic events that were normally dominated by the absent countries. Boycotting countries organized another major event in July-August 1984, called the Friendship Games.

Death and legacy

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. In what was almost universally regarded[citation needed], even by his opponents, as a cruel act against Chernenko, Politburo member Viktor Grishin dragged the terminally ill Chernenko from his hospital bed to a ballot box to vote in the elections in early 1985[citation needed].

Emphysema of the lungs and aggravated lung and heart insufficiency worsened significantly in the last three weeks of February 1985. Another, accompanying illness developed - chronic hepatitis, or liver failure, with its transformation into cirrhosis. This and the worsening dystrophic changes in the organs and tissues led to gradual deterioration of his health. On 10 March at 3:00 p.m. he fell into a coma, and at 7:20 p.m. he died as a result of heart failure. He became the third Soviet leader to die in just two years time, and, upon being informed in the middle of the night of his death, US President Ronald Reagan is reported to have remarked "how am I supposed to get anyplace with the Russians if they keep dying on me?"[1]

He was honored with a state funeral and was buried in the Kremlin necropolis.

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; money was also found in his desk[citation needed].

Chernenko was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour; 1976, in 1981 and in 1984 he was awarded Hero of the Socialist Labor: on the latter occasion, Minister of Defence Ustinov underlined his rule as an "outstanding political figure, a loyal and unwavering continuer of the cause of the great Lenin"; in 1981 he was awarded with the highest Bulgarian honour and in 1982 he received the Lenin Prize for his "Human Rights in Soviet Society."

His first marriage produced a son, Albert, who would become noted in the Soviet Union as a legal theorist. His second wife, Anna Dmitrevna Lyubimova (b. 1913), who married him in 1944, bore him two daughters, Yelena (who worked at the Institute of Party History) and Vera (who worked at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, DC) in the United States, and a son, Vladimir, who was a Goskino editorialist.

He had a Gosdacha in Troitse-Lykovo named Sosnovka-3 by the Moskva River with a private beach, while Sosnovka-1 was used by Mikhail Suslov.

See also

Primary sources


  • Brown, Archie. "The Soviet Succession: From Andropov to Chernenko," World Today, 40, April 1984, 134-41.
  • Daniels, Robert V. "The Chernenko Comeback," New Leader, 67, 20 February 1984, 3-5.
  • Halstead, John. "Chernenko in Office," International Perspectives, May-June 1984, 19-21.
  • Meissner, Boris. "Soviet Policy: From Chernenko to Gorbachev," Aussenpolitik [Bonn], 36, No. 4, April 1985, 357-75.
  • Urban, Michael E. "From Chernenko to Gorbachev: A Repolitization of Official Soviet Discourse," Soviet Union/Union Soviétique, 13, No. 2, 1986, 131-61.
  • Pribytkov, Victor, "Soviet-U.S. Relations: The Selected Writings and Speeches of Konstantin U. Chernenko", The American Political Science Review, Vol. 79, No. 4 (December, 1985), p. 1277
Party political offices
Preceded by
Yuri Andropov
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Mikhail Gorbachev
Political offices
Preceded by
Vasily Kuznetsov
Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
Succeeded by
Vasily Kuznetsov


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko (1911-09-24 - 1985-03-10) was the leader of the Soviet Union from February 1984 (after the death of Yuri Andropov) until his death. He was succeded by Mikhail Gorbachev.


  • Those who try to give us advice on matters of human rights do nothing but provoke an ironic smile among us. We will not permit anyone to interfere in our affairs.
    • Quoted in "Simpson's contemporary quotations" - by James Beasley Simpson - Page 2
  • If Soviet society is to move forward with confidence toward our great goals, each new generation must rise to an ever-higher level of learning and general cultivation, occupational skill and civic activism. One might say that such is the law of societal progress. In the context of the scientific and technological revolution, under a virtual avalanche of information, this law imposes unwontedly high demands on both those who study and those who teach—from rank-and-file classroom teachers to government ministers.
    • Quoted in "Soviet Education" - Page 109 - by International Arts and Sciences Press, M.E. Sharpe, Inc - Education - 1958
  • The Soviet Union has long been proposing to outlaw chemical weapons, to remove them from the arsenals of states. We are prepared for resolution of this problem either on a global basis or piece by piece. As one of the first steps the USSR and the other socialist countries proposed in January 1984 that agreement be reached on ridding Europe of all types of chemical weapons.
    • Quoted in "World Peace and the Developing Countries" - Page 126 - by Joseph Rotblat, Ubiratan D'Ambrosio - 1986
  • Washington's adventuristic policy, whipping up international tension to the utmost, is pushing mankind towards nuclear catastrophe.
    • Quoted in "Speeches and Writings: Leaders of the World" - Page 186 - by Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko - Political Science - 1984
  • As a great socialist power the Soviet Union is fully aware of its responsibility to the peoples for preserving and strengthening peace. We are open to peaceful, mutually beneficial cooperation with states on all continents. We are for the peaceful settlement of all disputable international problems through serious, equal, and constructive talks.
    • Quoted in "The Struggle of the USSR for Peace and Security" - Page 6 - History - 1984
  • All this is forcing the USSR to fortify the nation's defences. The Soviet people want no arms build-up. What they want is arms reduction on both sides. But we are compelled to see to our country's essential security and also to that of our friends and allies. That is exactly what is being done. And we want everybody to remember that no adventure-seekers will ever succeed in catching us unawares, that no potential aggressor has the slightest chance of escaping a devastating retaliatory strike.
    • Quoted in "Problems of Common Security" - Page 60 - by V. S. Shaposhnikov - 1984

About Chernenko

  • Sverdlov Hall was already nearly full...The provincial elite were all there. And it was all the usual things: people kissing each other and shouting greetings across the rows of seats, chattering about the snow and the harvest prospects and generally feeling themselves to be masters of their fate. In all the cacophony I didn't hear the name of Andropov mentioned once, not anything said about his death. At twenty minutes to eleven the hall hushed. The waiting began. With each minute the tension rose and the atmosphere felt charged with electricity...The tension reached a climax. All eyes turned towards the door...Who would come through it first? At precisely eleven, Chernenko's head appeared in the doorway. He was followed by Tikhonov, Gromyko, Ustinov, Gorbachev and the rest. The delegates' reaction was silence.
    • Anatoly Chernyayev, who was to become an aide to Gorbachev, has described the appointment of Chernenko at the special plenum of the Central Comittee on February 13, 1984.
  • You know, comrades, that Konstantin Ustinovich has been gravely ill for a long time, and has been in the hospital in recent months. On the part of the Fourth Main Department, all necessary measures were taken in order to treat Konstantin Ustinovich. But the illness did not submit to the cure, it started to weaken his systems first slowly, and then faster and faster. It became especially aggravated as a result of pneumonia in both lungs, which Konstantin Ustinovich developed during his vacation in Kislovodsk. There were periods when we succeeded in alleviating the lung and heart insufficiencies, and during those periods Konstantin Ustinovich found enough strength to come to work. Several times he conducted Politburo sessions, and put in work days, although shortened ones. Emphysema of the lungs and the aggravated lung and heart insufficiency had worsened significantly in the last two or three weeks. Another, accompanying illness had developed—chronic hepatitis, i.e. liver failure with its transformation into cirrhosis. The cirrhosis of the liver and the worsening dystrophic changes in the organs and tissues led to the situation where not with standing intensive therapy, which was administered actively on a daily basis, the state of his health gradually deteriorated. On March 10 at 3:00 p.m., Konstantin Ustinovich lost consciousness, and at 19:20 death occurred as a result of heart failure.
    • Yevgeni Chazov, spoken in a special session of the Central Committee one day after Chernenko died.

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Simple English

Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko (Russian language: Константи́н Усти́нович Черне́нко September 24, 1911March 10, 1985) was the leader of the Soviet Union for a very short time. He became the leader in 1984, and ruled for 13 months until his death in 1985.

Preceded by
Yuri Andropov
General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party
Succeeded by
Mikhail Gorbachev


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