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Born to a poor peasant family in southern Russia, Gorbachev worked his way up the local party apparat before moving to Moscow in 1978 as agriculture chief. His move to the Kremlin top job was made possible by a secret deal with Soviet foreign minister Gromyko. In office, Gorbachev adopted a refreshing new public approach of candor. He also quickly secured his own power base, adopted Andropov-inspired “acceleration” as the centerpiece of his early reforms, and launched an ultimately disastrous antialcohol campaign that pushed the Soviet budget into growing deficits. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, which Gorbachev described as a watershed in his approach toward reform. It includes observations from the author’s position as chief of US-Soviet bilateral relations at the time of Chernobyl.

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