Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich

Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich
   Politician. Born the son of a steelworker in Dniprodzerzhynsk, Ukraine, Leonid Brezhnev enjoyed the upward mobility provided to working-class youth in the early Soviet period. He began a career in metallurgy, and after nearly a decade in the Komsomol youth organization, he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1931. He was a political commissar during his initial military service and was later elevated to party secretary of his hometown. During World War II, he returned to the military, serving under Nikita Khrushchev, who would become his primary political patron in the coming decades. He ultimately attained the rank of major general, though he remained a political rather than combat officer. In the post–World War II period, he took over the administration of the newly annexed territories of Soviet Moldova. In 1952, he joined the Central Committee of the CPSU. Two years later, he assumed control of the Community Party in Kazakhstan. His alliance with Khrushchev paid dividends in the late 1950s, and Brezhnev emerged from the party’s internal struggle as a full member of the Politburo. In 1960, he became president of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and thus the nominal head of state. Khrushchev, as general secretary of the CPSU, however, still wielded ultimate power. Brezhnev and a number of other conspirators removed Khrushchev from office in 1964, and after a period of power sharing with Aleksey Kosygin and Anastas Mikoyan, Brezhnev emerged as the undisputed leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In foreign relations, Brezhnev ordered the military suppression of Czechoslovakia’s experiment in “socialism with a human face” in 1968 via an invasion by Warsaw Pact nations; he also failed to prevent worsening relations with China. The Soviet Union reached its zenith as a world power under his rule.
   In the 1970s, the United States and the USSR began a period of negotiations known as détente, which resulted in new arms control agreements. However, in the last years of his tenure, Brezhnev ordered the invasion of Afghanistan, initiating the disastrous Soviet-Afghan War that would plague his successors. On the home front, the USSR benefited from high petroleum prices in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo. Standard-of-living increases and political stability became the hallmarks of the Brezhnev era. However, mismanagement of the economy, overreliance on heavy industry, and a failure to adjust to changing market dynamics on the world stage resulted in stagnation. This stagnation was defined by an ineffective command economy, commitment of resources to defense, high secrecy, inflation, and the rise of the black market. Concurrently, few scientific or economic innovations were implemented, and there was general resistance to new practices. During this period, Brezhnev enjoyed a cult of personality that bordered on the pathetic: he was awarded over 150 medals, and constantly hosted parades. The public reacted to Brezhnev and his rule with apathy and cynicism.
   After developing a dangerous addiction to prescription narcotics, Brezhnev died of a heart attack on 10 November 1982. He was succeeded by Yury Andropov.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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