Moscow: Mikhail Gorbachev elected General Secretary
Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo on March 11, 1985, three hours after predecessor Konstantin Chernenko's death at age 73. Gorbachev, aged 54, was the youngest member of the Politburo. His initial goal as general secretary was to revive the Soviet economy, and he realized that doing so would require reforming underlying political and social structures. The reforms began with personnel changes of senior Brezhnev-era officials who would impede political and economic change. On April 23, 1985, Gorbachev brought two protégés, Yegor Ligachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov, into the Politburo as full members. He kept the "power" ministries happy by promoting KGB Head Viktor Chebrikov from candidate to full member and appointing Minister of Defence Marshal Sergei Sokolov as a Politburo candidate.
This liberalization, however, fostered nationalist movements and ethnic disputes within the Soviet Union. It also led indirectly to the revolutions of 1989, in which Soviet-imposed socialist regimes of the Warsaw Pact were toppled peacefully (with the notable exception of Romania), which in turn increased pressure on Gorbachev to introduce greater democracy and autonomy for the Soviet Union's constituent republics. Under Gorbachev's leadership, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1989 introduced limited competitive elections to a new central legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies (although the ban on other political parties was not lifted until 1990).
In May 1985, Gorbachev delivered a speech in Leningrad advocating reforms and an anti-alcohol campaign to tackle widespread alcoholism. Prices of vodka, wine, and beer were raised, which was intended to discourage drinking by increasing the cost of liquor. A rationing program was also introduced, where citizens were assigned punch cards detailing how much liquor they could buy in a certain time frame. Unlike most forms of rationing, which is typically adopted as a strategy to conserve scarce goods, this was done to restrict sales with the overt goal of curtailing drunkenness. Gorbachev's plan also included billboards promoting sobriety, increased penalties for public drunkenness, and censorship of drinking scenes from old movies. This mirrored Tsar Nicholas II's program during the First World War, which was intended to eradicate drunkenness in order to bolster the war effort. However, that earlier effort was also intended to preserve grain for only the most essential purposes, which did not appear to be a goal in Gorbachev's program. Gorbachev soon faced the same adverse economic reaction to his prohibition as did the last Tsar. The disincentivization of alcohol consumption was a serious blow to the state budget according to Alexander Yakovlev, who noted annual collections of alcohol taxes decreased by 100 billion rubles. Alcohol sales migrated to the black market and moonshining became more prevalent as some made "bathtub vodka" with homegrown potatoes. Poorer, less educated Soviets resorted to drinking unhealthy substitutes such as nail-polish remover, rubbing alcohol, or men's cologne, resulting in an additional burden on Russia's healthcare sector due to the increased poisoning cases. The underlying purpose of these reforms was to prop up the existing command economy, in contrast to later reforms, which tended toward market socialism.
On July 1, 1985, Gorbachev promoted Eduard Shevardnadze, First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, to full member of the Politburo, and the following day appointed him minister of foreign affairs, replacing longtime Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. The latter, disparaged as "Mr Nyet" in the West, had served for 28 years as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Gromyko was relegated to the largely ceremonial position of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (officially Soviet Head of State), as he was considered an "old thinker". Also on July 1, Gorbachev sidelined his main rival by removing Grigory Romanov from the Politburo and he brought Boris Yeltsin and
Lev Zaikov into the CPSU Central Committee Secretariat.
In the fall of 1985, Gorbachev continued to bring younger and more energetic men into government. On September 27, 55-year-old Nikolai Ryzhkov replaced 79-year-old Nikolai Tikhonov as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, effectively the Soviet prime minister, and on October 14, Nikolai Talyzin replaced Nikolai Baibakov as chairman of the State Planning Committee (GOSPLAN). At the next Central Committee meeting on October 15, Tikhonov retired from the Politburo and Talyzin became a candidate. On December 23, 1985, Gorbachev appointed Yeltsin First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party replacing Viktor Grishin.