Useful Notes: Leonid Brezhnev

Think you have enough medals there?
Leonid Brezhnev was the second-longest serving leader of the Soviet Union, after only Josef Stalin, and together with US Presidents Ford and Nixon was responsible for Russo-American Détente. Ford and Brezhnev's easygoing and eager-to-please natures enabled them to ease mutual tensions and effectively put the Cold War on-hold from 1969 until 1979 at the latest. Just look at how happy ol' Brezhie was when Ford, visiting Vladivostok, noticed Brezhnev's admiration of his fur coat and spontaneously gifted it to him. Making Nuclear Holocaust less likely has never been so amiable. Brezhnev's eighteen-year reign coincided with most of the 1960s, the entirety of the 1970s, and the beginning of the 1980s. He's usually remembered as a stodgy old bureaucrat with senility problems. Also, there was that time he kissed East German dictator Erich Honecker.

Brezhnev had been the right-hand man of Nikita Khrushchev for a long time, and so when his boss was deposed by a motley mix of hardliners in 1964 Brezhnev was well-positioned to take power. His early reign was a bit awkward as the government was dominated by hardliners, who had little tolerance for the 'softie' Brezhnev and his liberal-socialist sympathies. Accordingly the USSR reversed many of Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist reforms and began building the army back up again so it wouldn't be forced to use tactical nuclear weapons in the event of an armed conflict as per Khrushchevian doctrine. When the Prague Spring arose in 1968 Brezhnev was intensely sympathetic to their cause and spent months talking with his friends in the Czechoslovakian leadership, trying to work out a peaceable solution in which a prospective Socialist Democracy could co-exist with Communist Dictatorships 'and' remain in the Warsaw Pact. Ultimately the Czechoslovaks had taken it 'too far' in the eyes of virtually the entire Soviet leadership by autumn and, to strengthen Brezhnev's resolve, head of the KGB Yuri Adropov fabricated reports that the country was on the verge of leaving the Warsaw Pact and joining NATO unless immediate action was taken. Brezhnev promptly called in Warsaw Pact forces to topple the regime, and seems not to have appreciated the deception when he learned of it.

The most important long-term consequence of this was that Soviet hardliners suddenly began singing Brezhnev's praises, seeing him as 'one of them' (an impression he encouraged). In one fell swoop he had gained the anti-capitalist credentials he needed to negotiate with capitalists without looking weak. This set the stage for the demonstrably anti-capitalist Brezhnev and his contemporary the US President Gerald Ford (an anti-communist) to negotiate Détente'' with one another. Brezhnev's move also made big waves within the Warsaw Pact. Although Khrushchev, another 'liberal' (by Soviet standards), had crushed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 in much the same way, the Soviet government saw fit to formally justify the ending of the Prague Spring with what became known as the "Brezhnev doctrine". The Brezhnev doctrine stated that communist countries which started to get crazy ideas about flirting with socialism (there are big differences) or semi-democratic representative institutions or whatnot needed to be put back on course.

Brezhnev oversaw a period of stability in the Soviet Union, but also stagnation. Russians rank him as their favorite leader of the twentieth century. Internationally, the 1970s was the period of greatest communist success in the Cold War. The communist side won The Vietnam War. Neighboring Laos and Cambodia also went communist. So did Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, and Benin. Meanwhile, the West was reeling from an oil crisis and the American economy was suffering from stagflation. It was a great time to be a commie!

Then Brezhnev got the brilliant idea to invade Afghanistan in order to put down an anti-communist rebellion there. This would prove to be the greatest (and last) test for the Brezhnev doctrine. By then, his health started to take a turn for the worst and he would die in 1982.

Brezhnev in popular culture
  • He is mentioned in Pink Floyd's song "The Fletcher Memorial Home" from the album The Final Cut, as one of the "overgrown infants" and "incurable tyrants" who ought to be sent to a rest home.
  • In Spitting Image Brezhnev was often used as an extra, often in scenes with Russian settings. Since the show debuted in 1984 Brezhnev himself had already been dead for two years and was never featured as himself on the show.
  • He appears as a character in Agent Lavender.
  • He also turns up in Icarus Falls.
  • Appears in Oliver Stone's Nixon meeting the President about the SALT II treaty.
  • He appeared in an Alternate History episode of American Dad!, in which Walter Mondale won the 1984 election and so surrendered America to the USSR after only a few weeks in office. This can be considered an anachronism, since Brezhnev died in 1982, but it can also be Hand Waved as part of the Butterfly Effect.
  • The Soviet premier in the James Bond film Octopussy was obviously intended to be Brezhnev, who actually died before the film's premiere.