In 1980, on this day Leonid Brezhnev, CPSU general secretary since 1964, died of heart failure at the age of 73; he was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, who'd been chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet at the time of Brezhnev's death.
Death of Leonid BrezhnevIn Chernenko's first official act as Soviet premier the new CPSU First Secretary declared martial law in Moscow, Kiev, and Leningrad in an effort to quell the civil unrest which had been racking those cities -- and much of the rest of the Soviet Union as well --for months. But in hindsight the martial law declaration would prove to be a case of closing and locking the barn door after the horses had already run away. Demonstrations demanding political liberalization and reform would only become more frequent during Chernenko's first months as Soviet leader, and some of the more radical anti-government factions incited riots just to spite him.
A new post from the Necessary Evil Thread by Chris OakleyAnd things would only get worse for Chernenko; on the same day he officially assumed the post of CPSU general secretary East Germany and Hungary confirmed they would not be participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Two weeks after that announcement, the Czech ambassador in Moscow told Chernenko that Czechoslovakia was also withdrawing from the 1980 Summer Games. On the heels of this stunning decision then-U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance sent a memo to President Jimmy Carter asserting that both the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were in the first stages of their ultimate collapse; the memo concluded with the prediction the Soviet Union would break up within the next 3-5 years.
While not entirely convinced of the validity of Vance's argument, Carter nonetheless gave the State Department the green light to begin updating its European policies to prepare for life in a post-Cold War world. He also instructed his Director of Central Intelligence, Stansfield Turner, to step up CIA surveillance activities inside the Soviet Union to look for signs of how far and how rapidly that country's internal disintegration was progressing.