Jack Reddin: The chimes of the Kremlin ushered in the Soviet New Year with the leader missing and great uncertainty about the future, and ending the year in similar fashion with the Defense Minister unseen in nearly three months and a long-awaited transition to a younger leadership still somewhere in the future.
It was a year in which relations with the United States plummeted to the lowest point since the Cold War, although the return of Moscow to the bargaining table in January may mean a real thaw. The somber mood for the year was set late in 1983, when the Soviet Union walked out of Arms Talks. The propaganda against the United States was relentless, and the words were backed by a boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics.
At home, there was tighter controls. Immigration from the Soviet Union dwindled almost to a halt. When the death of Yuri Andropov was announced on February 10th, it could have ushered in a new, younger generation. Instead, the second funeral of a Soviet leader in less than a year was followed by the announcement that 75-year-old Konstantin Chernenko was taking over. The sense that the Soviet Union is just marching time was underlined when Chernenko disappeared from public view for nearly two months in the summer.
But the stage has been set for the changing of the guard from those who rose under the Stalinist era. Mikhail Gorbachev is 53 years old, very young by Soviet standards; but his position as the heir apparent appears secure, and in the final days of the year Gorbachev was dispatched to London to expound Soviet views and, more importantly, get experience in the Western world he will probably soon have to deal with.
Jack Reddin, Moscow.