chapter  9
Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Empire
By1982–92
Pages 16

When Brezhnev finally died in 1982 he was replaced by Yury Andropov, the son of a railway clerk, who had been chairman of the KGB since 1967. The appointment of the 68-year-old revealed how important the security apparatus had become. He was remembered as a key figure in the suppression of the Hungarian revolution. As general secretary he was known for his unsuccessful anti-drink campaign. Andropov was already a sick man and died of kidney failure in 1984. More remarkable still was the ‘election’ of Konstantin Chernenko, a sick 72-year-old of Siberian peasant stock, as Andropov’s successor. He had spent his life in CPSU work and rose by holding on to Brezhnev’s coat-tails. These aged bureaucrats personified the decline of Soviet dynamism. British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe wondered just how the Soviet Union ‘could possibly have been reduced to such a dangerously leaderless condition’.1 Across the Atlantic Ocean they were faced by Ronald Reagan who, although 71, was very dynamic. In Europe they faced West Germany’s conciliatory Helmut Kohl (aged 52), Britain’s robust Margaret Thatcher (aged 57) and France’s diplomatic François Mitterrand (aged 66).