Konstantin Chernenko

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Konstantin Chernenko
Константин Черненко
Chernenko in 1973
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
13 February 1984 – 10 March 1985
Preceded byYuri Andropov
Succeeded byMikhail Gorbachev
Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union
In office
11 April 1984 – 10 March 1985
DeputyVasily Kuznetsov
Preceded byYuri Andropov
Vasily Kuznetsov (acting)
Succeeded byAndrei Gromyko
Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
10 November 1982 – 9 February 1984
Preceded byYuri Andropov
Succeeded byMikhail Gorbachev (de facto)
In office
25 January 1982 – 24 May 1982
Preceded byMikhail Suslov
Succeeded byYuri Andropov
Personal details
Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko

(1911-09-24)24 September 1911
Bolshaya Tes, Yeniseysk Governorate, Russian Empire
Died10 March 1985(1985-03-10) (aged 73)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Cause of deathCombination of chronic emphysema, an enlarged and damaged heart, congestive heart failure and liver cirrhosis
Resting placeKremlin Wall Necropolis, Moscow
Political partyCPSU (1931–1985)
Spouse(s)Faina Vassilyevna Chernenko
(m. 1944)
Children4, including Albert
See List
  • Hero of Socialist Labour Hero of Socialist Labour Hero of Socialist Labour
    Order of Lenin Order of Lenin Order of Lenin Order of Lenin
    Order of the Red Banner of Labour Order of the Red Banner of Labour Order of the Red Banner of Labour Medal "For Valiant Labour in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
    Jubilee Medal "In Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin" Jubilee Medal "Thirty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" Jubilee Medal "60 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR"
Military service
AllegianceSoviet Union
Branch/serviceSoviet Armed Forces
Years of service1930–1933
Central institution membership

Other political offices held
Leader of the Soviet Union

Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko[a][b] (24 September 1911 – 10 March 1985)[2] was a Soviet politician and the seventh General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He briefly led the Soviet Union from 1984 until his death a year later.

Born to a poor Ukrainian family in Siberia, Chernenko joined the Komsomol in 1929 and became a full member of the party in 1931. After holding a series of propaganda posts, in 1948 he became the head of the propaganda department in Moldavia, serving under Leonid Brezhnev. After Brezhnev took over as First Secretary of the CPSU in 1964, Chernenko rose to head the General Department of the Central Committee, responsible for setting the agenda for the Politburo and drafting Central Committee decrees. In 1971 Chernenko became a full member of the Central Committee, and in 1978 he was made a full member of the Politburo.

After the death of Brezhnev and his successor Yuri Andropov, Chernenko was elected General Secretary in February 1984 and made Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in April 1984. Due to his rapidly failing health, he was often unable to fulfill his official duties. He died in March 1985 after leading the country for only 13 months, and was succeeded as General Secretary by Mikhail Gorbachev.

Early life and political career[edit]

Chernenko's Party card following his promotion to the Soviet Union's ruling Central Committee.


Chernenko was born to a poor family of Ukrainian ethnicity in the Siberian village of Bolshaya Tes (now in Novosyolovsky District, Krasnoyarsk Krai) on 24 September 1911.[3]

Chernenko joined the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) in 1929. By 1931, he became a full member of the ruling Communist Party. 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 Novosyolovsky District Party Committee. A few years later he was promoted to head of the same department in Uyarsk Raykom.

Chernenko steadily rose through the Party ranks, becoming the Director of the Krasnoyarsk House of Party Enlightenment before being named Deputy Head of the Agitprop Department of Krasnoyarsk's Territorial Committee in 1939. In the early 1940s, he began a close relationship with Fyodor Kulakov and was named Secretary of the Territorial Party Committee for Propaganda.[4] By 1945, he acquired a diploma from a party training school in Moscow then later finished a correspondence course for schoolteachers in 1953.

Rise to the Soviet leadership[edit]

Chernenko (seated second from left in the front row) attending the USSR's 60th Anniversary in 1982.

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 the Moldavian branch of the Communist Party 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.

In 1964, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was deposed, and succeeded by 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 wiretaps and covert listening devices in various offices of the top Party members. Another 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. He became Candidate in 1977, and in 1978 a full member of the Politburo, second to the General Secretary in the 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 working as 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 that the position of General Secretary would fall to Chernenko, but he was unable to rally enough support for his candidacy within the Party. Ultimately, KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who had been more mindful of Brezhnev's failing health, eventually won the position.

Leader of the Soviet Union[edit]

Yuri Andropov died on 9 February 1984 at age 69 in Moscow Central Clinical Hospital of kidney failure. Chernenko was then elected to replace Andropov even though the latter stated he wanted Mikhail Gorbachev to succeed him. Additionally, Chernenko was terminally ill himself.[5]

At the time of his ascent to the country's top post, Chernenko was primarily viewed as a transitional leader who could give the Politburo's "Old Guard" time to choose an acceptable candidate from the next generation of Soviet leadership. In the interim, he was forced to govern the country as part of a triumvirate alongside Defense Minister Dmitriy Ustinov and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.[6] This became a growing problem as Chernenko's illness led him to miss meetings with increasing frequency. At Andropov's funeral, Chernenko could barely read the eulogy.[7]

As a result of Chernenko's weak hold on power, Foreign Minister Gromyko (left) and Defense Minister Ustinov (right) held enormous influence over Soviet policy throughout his leadership.

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 Chernenko made was the dismissal of the Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov. Ogarkov was subsequently replaced by Marshal Sergey Akhromeyev.

In foreign policy, he negotiated a trade deal with 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 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.[8]

In 1980, the United States led an international boycott of the Summer Olympics held in Moscow in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The following 1984 Summer Olympics were due to be held in Los Angeles, California. On 8 May 1984, under Chernenko's leadership, the USSR announced its intention not to participate in the Games, claiming "security concerns and chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States".[9] The boycott was joined by 14 Eastern Bloc satellites and allies, including Cuba (but not Romania). The action was widely seen as revenge for the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Games. The boycotting countries organised their own "Friendship Games" in the summer of 1984.[10]

Before his death, Chernenko signed preliminary documents stating that on 9 May 1985, on the day of the 40th Victory Day Parade, the city of Volgograd would be renamed to Stalingrad. In his letter to Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, he wrote about "the upcoming restoration of justice in relation to the memory and heritage of I.V. Stalin", which presumably referred to Stalin's political rehabilitation.[11]

Health problems, death and legacy[edit]

Chernenko started smoking at the age of nine,[12] and he was always known to be a heavy smoker as an adult.[13] Long before his election as general secretary, he had developed emphysema and right-sided heart failure. In 1983 he had been absent from his duties for three months due to bronchitis, pleurisy and pneumonia. Historian John Lewis Gaddis described him as "an enfeebled geriatric so zombie-like as to be beyond assessing intelligence reports, alarming or not" when he succeeded Andropov in 1984.[14]

In early 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 later in 1984. He awarded Orders to cosmonauts and writers in his office, but was unable to walk through the corridors 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.[15] Two days later, in a televised scene that shocked the nation,[16] Grishin dragged the terminally ill Chernenko from his hospital bed to a ballot box to vote. 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".[15]

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 doctor, Yevgeny I. Chazov, Chernenko had also developed both chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.[9] On 10 March at 15:00, Chernenko fell into a coma and died later that evening at 19:20, at age 73. An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a combination of chronic emphysema, an enlarged and damaged heart, congestive heart failure and liver cirrhosis. A three-day period of mourning across the country was announced.[17][18] India,[19] Iraq,[19] Syria[20] and Nicaragua[21] all declared three days of mourning; Pakistan[22] declared two days of mourning; East Germany[23] and Czechoslovakia[24] declared one day of mourning.

Chernenko became the third Soviet leader to die in less than three years. Upon being informed in the middle of the night of his death, U.S. President Ronald Reagan is reported to have remarked, "How am I supposed to get anyplace with the Russians if they keep dying on me?"[25]

Chernenko was honored with a state funeral and was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, in one of the twelve individual tombs located between the Lenin Mausoleum and the Kremlin wall.[26] He is the last person to have been interred there.

The impact of Chernenko—or the lack thereof—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 Mikhail 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.[27]

After the death of a Soviet leader it was customary for his successors to open his safe. When Gorbachev had Chernenko's safe opened, it was found to contain a small folder of personal papers and several large bundles of money; more money was found in his desk. It is not known where he had obtained the money or what he intended to use it for.[28]

Honors and awards[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Chernenko had a son with his first wife, Faina Vassilyevna Chernenko, named Albert. With his second wife, Anna Dmitrevna Lyubimova, who married him in 1944, he had two daughters, Yelena and Vera, and a son, Vladimir. In 2015, archival documents were published, according to which Chernenko had many more wives, and many more children with them; this circumstance, perhaps, was the reason for the slowing of Chernenko's career growth in the 1940s.[29]


  1. ^ In this name that follows Eastern Slavic naming customs, the patronymic is Ustinovich and the family name is Chernenko.
  2. ^ /ɜːrˈnɛŋk/ cher-NENK-oh;[1] Russian: Константин Устинович Черненко, IPA: [kənstɐnˈtʲin ʊˈsʲtʲinəvʲɪtɕ tɕɪrˈnʲenkə]
    Ukrainian: Костянтин Устинович Черненко, romanizedKostiantyn Ustynovych Chernenko


  1. ^ "Chernenko". Collins English Dictionary.
  2. ^ Jessup, John E. (1998). Profile of Konstantin Chernenko. Greenwood Publishing. ISBN 9780313281129.
  3. ^ Jessup, John E. (1998). An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 1945–1996. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 121. Archived from the original on 10 October 2017. Retrieved 2 September 2017.[ISBN missing]
  4. ^ Hough, Jerry F. (1997). Democratization and revolution in the USSR, 1985–1991. Brookings Institution Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-8157-3748-3.
  5. ^ de Lama, George (16 February 1985). "CHERNENKO TERMINALLY ILL: U.S." Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  6. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (12 March 1985). "Succession In Moscow: Siberian Peasant Who Won Power; Konstantin Chernenko, A Brezhnev Protege, Led Brief Regime". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  7. ^ Washington Post Foreign Service. "Briton Thinks Chernenko Is Ill". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 28 August 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  8. ^ "SUCCESSION IN MOSCOW: A PRIVATE LIFE, AND A MEDICAL CASE; Briton Is Optimistic on Gorbachev Views". The New York Times. 1985. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  9. ^ a b Altman, Lawrence K., "Succession in Moscow: A Private Life, and a Medical Case; Autopsy Discloses Several Diseases", New York Times, 25 March 1985.
  10. ^ Edelman, Robert Simon (2015). "The Russians Are Not Coming! The Soviet Withdrawal from the Games of the XXIII Olympiad". The International Journal of the History of Sport. 32 (1). Taylor and Francis: 9–36. doi:10.1080/09523367.2014.958669. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  11. ^ "Реабилитация Сталина и другие вещи, которые хотел слелать Черненко | Русская Семёрка". 22 July 2020.
  12. ^ Post, Jerrold M. (2004). Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World: The Psychology of Political Behavior. Psychoanalysis & Social Theory. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 87. ISBN 0-8014-4169-2.
  13. ^ Burns, John F. (16 February 1984). "World Attention Turns To Chernenko's Health". The New York Times.
  14. ^ John Lewis Gaddis (2005). The Cold War: A New History. Penguin Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-1594200625.
  15. ^ a b Mydans, Seth (1 March 1985). "A Halting Chernenko is on TV Again". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  16. ^ Dmitri Volkogonov. (1998), Autopsy for an Empire: The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime. (page 72). ISBN 0684834200
  17. ^ Doder, Dusko (12 March 1985). "Gorbachev Becomes Soviet Leader Hours After Chernenko Dies at 73". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  18. ^ "Gorbachev Chosen". Chicago Tribune. 12 March 1985.
  19. ^ a b "East, West Leaders Mourn Chernenko's Death". Los Angeles Times. 12 March 1985.
  20. ^ Karsh, Efraim (1991). "Gorbachev and the Syrians". Soviet Policy towards Syria since 1970. pp. 163–177. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-11482-5_11. ISBN 978-1-349-11484-9.
  21. ^ Rohter, Larry (23 March 1985). "Sandinista Government Viewed as Leftist Hybrid". The New York Times.
  22. ^ Saeed, M. Yousuf (1985). "Pakistan Foreign Policy—A Quarterly Survey". Pakistan Horizon. 38 (2): 3–18. JSTOR 41393726.
  23. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. (12 March 1985). "Succession in Moscow: Tributes from Abroad; Moscow's Allies Extend Condolences". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Šprinc, Radek (14 April 2010). "Polská tragédie: Hradec vyvěsí vlajky na půl žerdi". Chrudimský Deník.
  25. ^ Maureen Dowd, "Where's the Rest of Him?" The New York Times, 18 November 1990.
  26. ^ "USSR: Soviet Leader Chernenko Buried". Reuters Archive Licensing. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  27. ^ "1985: Gorbachev becomes Soviet leader". 11 March 1985. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  28. ^ Dmitri Volkogonov. (1998), The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire. HarperCollins. p. 430. (ISBN 9780006388180
  29. ^ Леонид Максименков. Человек одного года // "Огонёк", 16 March 2015.


  • Brown, Archie (April 1984). "The Soviet Succession: From Andropov to Chernenko". World Today. 40: 134–141.
  • Daniels, Robert V. (20 February 1984). "The Chernenko Comeback". New Leader. 67: 3–5.
  • Halstead, John (May–June 1984). "Chernenko in Office". International Perspectives: 19–21.
  • Meissner, Boris (April 1985). "Soviet Policy: From Chernenko to Gorbachev". Aussenpolitik. 36 (4). Bonn: 357–375.
  • Ostrovsky, Alexander (2010). Кто поставил Горбачёва? (Who put Gorbachev?) Archived 7 August 2022 at the Wayback Machine — М.: Алгоритм-Эксмо, 2010. — 544 с. ISBN 978-5-699-40627-2.
  • Pribytkov, Victor (December 1985). "Soviet-U.S. Relations: The Selected Writings and Speeches of Konstantin U. Chernenko". American Political Science Review. 79 (4): 1277. doi:10.2307/1956397. JSTOR 1956397. S2CID 161571675.
  • Urban, Michael E. (1986). "From Chernenko to Gorbachev: A Repolitization of Official Soviet Discourse". Soviet Union/Union Soviétique. 13 (2): 131–161.
  • Volkogonov, Dmitri. (1998), The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire. pp 383–431.
  • Zemtsov, Ilya. Chernenko: The Last Bolshevik: The Soviet Union on the Eve of Perestroika (1989), 308p. covers 1970 to 1985.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
13 February 1984 – 10 March 1985
Succeeded by
Preceded by Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
10 November 1982 – 9 February 1984
Succeeded by
Senior Secretary of Ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
10 November 1982 – 9 February 1984
Preceded by Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

25 January 1982 – 24 May 1982
Succeeded by
Senior Secretary of Ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

25 January 1982 ― 24 May 1982
Preceded by Senior Secretary of Cadres for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
March 1976 – January 1983
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
11 April 1984 – 10 March 1985
Succeeded by
Sporting positions
Preceded by President of Organizing Committee for Summer Olympic Games
Succeeded by