Gorbachev's Challenge

February 14, 1986

Report Outline
New Leader's First Year
Economic Concerns
Foreign Policy Goals
Special Focus

New Leader's First Year

Diplomatic and Arms Control Initiatives

Mikhail S. Gorbachev will shortly complete his first year as leader of the Soviet Union. Recognized early as “a man in a hurry,” Gorbachev, 54, has indeed accomplished a great deal since March 11, 1985, when he was named general secretary of the Communist Party. He has met with an American president at the first superpower summit in six years and placed his personal stamp on arms control negotiations. He has overhauled the Kremlin leadership, replacing older officials with men of his own generation. And he has initiated several bureaucratic and economic reforms aimed at improving the country's lagging economy.

It is still unclear whether Gorbachev's changes will prove to be more a matter of style or of substance. In any event, he has succeeded in creating an image different from his three immediate predecessors who were largely confined to the Kremlin by advanced age or illness. Gorbachev has exploited his relative youth, presenting himself as a vigorous leader capable of improving the Soviet way of life.

But the new leader may also be in a hurry to ensure his political survival. Even before his first anniversary at the top, Gorbachev will face a crucial test in the upcoming Soviet Communist Party Congress, a gathering of party delegates from all over the country held every five years. The congress, which begins Feb. 25, will elect a new Central Committee to represent it until the next congress and adopt a five-year plan, a set of production goals for the Soviet economy from 1986–90. This year the congress will also ratify a revised party program, a more general document defining Communist Party goals in all aspects of Soviet life.

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