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President of the Soviet Union

Head of State of the Soviet Union between 1990 and 1991

President of the Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics
Президент Союза Советских Социалистических Республик
Only office holder
Mikhail Gorbachev
15 March 1990 – 25 December 1991
StyleMr President
His Excellency
TypeHead of state
ResidenceKremlin Senate, Moscow[1]
PrecursorPresidium of the Supreme Soviet (as head of state)
Formation15 March 1990; 32 years ago (1990-03-15)
First holderMikhail Gorbachev
Final holderMikhail Gorbachev
Abolished25 December 1991; 30 years ago (1991-12-25)
SuccessionNone (USSR dissolved)

The president of the Soviet Union (Russian: Президент Советского Союза, romanizedPrezident Sovetskogo Soyuza), officially the president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Президент Союза Советских Социалистических Республик), abbreviated as president of the USSR (Президент СССР),[3] was the head of state of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 15 March 1990 to 25 December 1991. Mikhail Gorbachev was the only person to occupy this office. Gorbachev was also General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union between March 1985 and August 1991. He derived an increasingly greater share of his power from his position as president until he finally resigned as General Secretary after the 1991 coup d'état attempt.


The presidency was an executive post, based on a mixture of the US and French presidencies.[5]

Prior to the creation of the post of president, the de jure head of state of the Soviet Union was the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, who was often called the "president" by non-Soviet sources. For most of the Soviet Union's existence, all effective executive political power was in the hands of the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with the chairman of the Presidium exercising largely symbolic and figurehead duties. Starting with Leonid Brezhnev in 1977, the last four general secretaries—Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, and Gorbachev—simultaneously served as de jure head of state during their time in office.

The president was initially elected by the Congress of People's Deputies and served as ex officio chairman of that body, but all future elections were to have been by popular vote. The president reported to the Supreme Soviet. On 24 September 1990, Gorbachev persuaded the Supreme Soviet to give him the power to rule by unrestricted decree (on the economy, law and order, and the appointment of government personnel) until 31 March 1992. Another power was the right to declare direct presidential rule in troubled areas and abolish democratic elected bodies if necessary. During the election of the president several candidates were nominated, among leading contenders were KGB chairman Vadim Bakatin and Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov.

The president's powers were:

  • Commander in chief of the armed forces
  • The ability to propose and veto legislation
  • The ability to appoint the Prime Minister (who would then have to be approved by the Supreme Soviet), or, if necessary, to dismiss the Prime Minister, among other government ministers and officials
  • The declaration of states of emergency or martial law within the borders of the Soviet Union
  • The nation's top representative abroad, with the ability to sign international treaties
  • The ability to call for national referendums on important issues
  • The ability to assign military ranks and honorary titles
  • The power to restore citizenship to exiles or internal dissidents
  • The ability to overrule government decisions that violated the constitution or endangered citizens rights and freedoms

The vice president of the Soviet Union was the deputy head of state. If the president was killed or unable to be in office, the vice president would become president. The only person to hold this office was Gennady Yanayev, who the following year became the leader of the Gang of Eight which attempted the August coup, assuming the position of acting president of the Soviet Union on 19 August 1991. After three days the coup collapsed and Gorbachev was restored.

Following the coup attempt, Gorbachev remained president until the country's dissolution, when he resigned and declared his office to be extinct. The powers of the position were subsequently ceded to the new President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin.


With his right hand on a red bound copy of the Soviet Constitution, placed on a small table before the Congress, the president-elect (Gorbachev) took the following oath: "I solemnly swear to faithfully serve the peoples of our nations, to strictly observe the Soviet Constitution, to guarantee the rights and freedoms of citizens and to conscientiously fulfill the high responsibilities placed in me as president of the Soviet Union."


No. Name
Term of office Political Party Election Vice President Prime Ministers
Took office Left office Time in office
1 Mikhail Gorbachev
(91 years old)
15 March 1990 25 December 1991 1 year, 285 days Communist Party of the
Soviet Union
1990 Office vacant
(until 27 December 1990)
Nikolai Ryzhkov
Gennady Yanayev Valentin Pavlov
Office abolished
(after 21 August 1991)
Ivan Silayev
Gennady Yanayev
(73 years old)
19 August 1991 21 August 1991 2 days Communist Party of the
Soviet Union
Office vacant Valentin Pavlov


Members of the Communist Party voted on establishing a presidency on 7 February 1990.[6] The first and only presidential election took place on 14 March 1990. The Congress of People's Deputies decided that they would elect the first president into a five-year term, then turn over presidential elections to the public beginning in the planned 1995 presidential election.

See also