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Brezhnev Era

Brezhnev Era

Leonid Brezhnev was the Soviet leader for almost two decades from 1964 to 1982. He oversaw a time marked by stagnation at home and, despite the brief relaxation of tensions, a continuing Cold War abroad. Who was he, and what defined the Brezhnev Era?

Brezhnev Era Timeline

Before we gain an understanding of Brezhnev's psyche and approach to politics, abroad and at home, we need to understand the Brezhnev Era.

Counter-revolution

A term used to describe the reversal of a revolution, in this case, a capitalist revolution within a socialist state.

Let's examine the key events that shaped the USSR during the Brezhnev Era.

DateEvent
1968 Brezhnev's Soviet forces set the tone for the Brezhnev Doctrine that crushes the 'Prague Spring' and demonstrates his intolerance of counter-revolution.
1969 After years of aggressive rhetoric from Khrushchev and then Brezhnev toward Chairman Mao, the Sino-Soviet Split culminated with border clashes between Soviet and Chinese soldiers over a dispute regarding a small island. The relations between the two communist nations reached an all-time low amidst worries that China was an unpredictable nuclear power after their first weapon test in 1964.
1970West Germany's Chancellor Willy Brandt begins his Ostpolitik or "politics of the east" with the Treaty of Moscow signed by Soviet ministers Kosygin and Gromyko as recognition of European borders and a foundation for détente. Brandt followed this with a Basic Treaty with East Germany in 1972 and Brezhnev visited West Germany in the same year.
21st February 1972President Nixon capitalises on the split between the Soviet Union and China. He becomes the first US President to visit Beijing since the 1949 Chinese Communist Revolution and begins an era of working on diplomatic solutions with his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.
22nd May 1972After demonstrating the possibility of the United States collaborating with communist China, Nixon visits Moscow to meet Brezhnev. Whilst there he signs the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) which limits Anti-Ballistic Missiles and ensures both sides keep their nuclear deterrent.
18th June 1973Brezhnev goes to the United States and addresses the population in Washington with a friendly tone. The two countries pledge to avoid nuclear war but fail to sign any concrete follow-up to SALT I. In the following year, Brezhnev met new President Gerald Ford in Vladivostok, where the two men promised to control weapons for the next decade.
October 1973The Yom Kippur War between Soviet-backed Egypt and Syria and United States-backed Israel is brought to an end in less than a month and is a sign of the growing desire for diplomacy and peace between the two superpowers.
1975The Helsinki Accords is signed by the United States, the Soviet Union and over thirty European nations. It asked for the respect of post-World War II borders and allowed for increased trade, travel between the West and the Soviet-controlled east and guarantees of civil freedoms. However, Brezhnev ignored the Accords when the Soviet human rights record came under scrutiny, domestically and in Eastern European countries, continuing his repressive policies.
17th June 1979Another new President, Jimmy Carter completes another arms treaty. He signed SALT II with Brezhnev which limited each country's number of strategic arms weapons from Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs) and more to 2250 per nation.
24th December 1979The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, infuriating Carter who never put SALT II into law as a result. This was the end of the diplomatic years known as détente.
1981To halt the progress of Solidarity in Poland and a counter-revolution, leader Jaruzelski introduces martial law and outlawed the group under the watchful eye of the Soviet Union. They squash the opposition without requiring military assistance.

Détente

On August 20th, the Soviet army swept through Prague and removed the leader, replacing him with staunch communists. Brezhnev was careful to control the narrative, showing footage of Soviet soldiers talking to Czech civilians, the reality was that blood spilt as the tanks rolled through Prague. This was the blueprint for the Brezhnev Doctrine: wherever socialism was under threat, there should be military intervention.

Poland

The other prominent voices of dissent during Brezhnev's era were in Poland in the form of the Solidarity movement, which was established in a Gdansk shipyard in 1980 by Lech Welesa and other discontented workers. They wanted greater freedoms and working conditions. The trade union snowballed in popularity and by the following year had 10 million members, a large chunk of the Polish workforce in all sectors.

Martial law

The control of a state is delegated to the military rather than the government. This occurs during wartime, disaster or rebellion.

Trade union

An organisation that is formed to protect the rights and prevent the exploitation of workers.

By 1981, the Soviet Union had already invaded Afghanistan and their economy was really stalling due to the system screaming out for reforms. It was thus in their interest to delegate and encourage Polish President Wojciech Jaruzelski to declare martial law, which would last two years. The leaders of Solidarity were arrested and the group was outlawed. Brezhnev had maintained control without requiring military spending.

What was Afghanistan's impact on the Cold War?

Afghanistan turned out to be the death knell in Brezhnev's détente. Quickly after signing the second important SALT treaty of the decade, he quickly sullied his relationship with the United States by invading Afghanistan on 24th December 1979. This was justifiable because the Soviet Union shared a 25,000 km land border with the Central Asian country.

Frequently Asked Questions about Brezhnev Era

The Brezhnev Era involved treaties to deescalate the Arms Race with the United States, foreign military intervention under the Brezhnev Doctrine and stagnation and repression domestically.

Brezhnev is known for being a hard-line conservative communist, unwilling to bend his principles for the preservation of his party and socialism.

Brezhnev took control of the Soviet Union in 1964 as part of a triumvirate with Kosygin and Podgorny and consolidated his position as the sole leader in the following years.

Brezhnev's theory or the Brezhnev Doctrine informed much of the foreign policy of the Soviet leader. As exemplified by Prague in 1968, he vowed to intervene in any Eastern bloc country where socialism was under threat.

The Brezhnev Era is the period between 1964 and 1982 when the Soviet Union was under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev.

Final Brezhnev Era Quiz

Question

Who did Brezhnev replace as leader of the Soviet Union?

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Answer

Nikita Khrushchev

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Question

Where was the first foreign intervention under the Brezhnev Doctrine?

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Answer

Czechoslovakia

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Question

Who controls a country under martial law?

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Answer

The military

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Question

Where was the trade union known as Solidarity based?

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Answer

Poland

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Question

Why did Brezhnev invade Afghanistan?

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Answer

It was a matter of national security because Afghanistan shares a border with the Soviet Union.

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Question

Who did Brezhev NOT meet?

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Answer

Chairman Mao

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Question

What does SALT stand for?

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Answer

Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty

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Question

What was the problem with the Helsinki Accords in 1975?

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Answer

Brezhnev ignored the part about human rights.

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Question

Which treaty was never ratified into United States law?

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Answer

SALT II

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Question

Did Brezhnev intend to end the Cold War during détente?

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Answer

No, he just followed the path that best preserved the Soviet Union.

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Question

What is the main reason that the Soviet Union suffered economically under Brezhnev's leadership?

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Answer

Lack of reform

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Question

Who made use of Gulags?

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Answer

Joseph Stalin

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Question

Why was Solzhenitsyn prosecuted?

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Answer

He spoke out about the reality of live in the Gulags.

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Question

Who was a reformer?

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Answer

Mikhail Gorbachev

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Question

Which United States President did Brezhnev infuriate in 1979?

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Answer

Jimmy Carter

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