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Brezhnev was an archetypal Soviet politician, head of the USSR, the First General Secretary of the CPSU, and the first person in Soviet history to hold both the leadership of the party and of the state. He was also known for the USSR’s massive buildup of nuclear arms. Brezhnev played a large role in improving relations between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s. Brezhnev was the best known of a three-man committee that held power of the Soviet Union for 18 years from 1964 until his death in 1982.
See the fact file below for more information on Leonid Brezhnev or alternatively, you can download our 32-page Leonid Brezhnev worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was born on December 12, 1906, in Kamenskoye (now Dneprodzerzhinsk) in Ukraine, first born of Ilya Yakovlevich Brezhnev (a metal worker) and Natalia Denisovna Mazalova.
- He was forced to go to work at age 15. After witnessing World War I and the Russian Revolution, he joined the Red Army. He played an active part in the mobilization and evacuating industry.
- He went back to school at age 20 as a part-time student in Land Management, and then received a technical education in Metallurgy.
- Brezhnev showed early signs of leadership and political ambitions. He joined a communist group known as Komsomol in 1923, an organisation used to express its opposition to the idea of possessing private property and the all-Union Communist party of Bolsheviks.
- A hard worker and a decent student, Brezhnev was professionally trained in both the industrial and Agricultural sector in which he earned a land surveyor certification in 1927.
- By 1929, he held a number of government posts and became an active member of CPSU.
- In 1935, he became a Metallurgical Engineer in the iron and steel industries of eastern Ukraine.
- In 1936, he became the Director of the Metallurgical College.
Military and Party Activities
- In 1936, he acted as a Political Commissar in a tank factory on the Ukrainian front.
- At the time, he also joined the Soviet Red Army responsible for setting up Stalin’s “Russification” policy. He received the first officer rank of lieutenant.
- In 1939, he was also in charge of the Dnipropetrovsk defense industries as the Party Secretary of the region.
- Brezhnev advanced quickly and he was awarded the rank of Major General of the Soviet Red Army.
- On June 22, 1941, Brezhnev was reassigned as the Head of Political Commissar when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Brezhnev was assigned to evacuate Dnipropetrovsk’s industries to the East of the Soviet Union.
- By October 1941, with the rank of Brigade Commissar (Colonel), he was in charge of keeping track of the enrollments and organizing the troops of the Southern Front.
- When Ukraine was occupied by the Nazis in 1942, Brezhnev became the deputy head of political administration of the Transcaucasian Front.
- Brezhnev quickly advanced to the head of the Political Department of the 18th Army. Then, he became Nikita Khrushchev’s protégé. Nikita was the Ukrainian senior political commissar.
- After the Nazi surrender in May 1945, Brezhnev became the Chief Political Commissar of the 4th Ukrainian Front.
Early Political Career
- In August 1946 he left the Soviet Army with the rank of Major General. He then became the General Secretary in Dnipropetrovsk.
- Brezhnev continued to move steadily through the ranks and later became the deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union (Soviet Union’s highest legislative body).
- As he was an effective troubleshooter, Khrushchev appointed Brezhnev the Party First Secretary in the Moldavian SSR in 1950. Brezhnev was in charge of the party organization and with the task of sovietization of the Romanian population.
- Stalin promoted Brezhnev to a candidate member of the Presidium (formerly the Politburo) to the Communist Party’s Central Committee which brought him national recognition.
- In March 1953, the Presidium was abolished and Brezhnev was removed from the Secretariat and a smaller Politburo reconstituted right after Stalin’s death.
- Brezhnev transferred back to the armed forces with the rank of Lieutenant General Head of Political Department of the Ministry supervising political lectures in the navy.
- Nikita gained full power of Moscow in 1954 and he made Brezhnev Second Secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party.
- Brezhnev implemented the Virgin and Idle Lands Campaign in Kazakhstan and was soon promoted to first secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party in 1955.
- The initially successful Virgin Lands Campaign soon became unproductive and failed to solve the growing Soviet food crisis.
- However, with his continued success as an administrator, he regained his posts on the CPSU Central Committee and in the Politburo in June 1957, and was assigned control of the defence industry and overseer of the new strategic missile program.
- In 1960, Khrushchev named Brezhnev as the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet – the titular head of the Soviet state.
- In 1963, Brezhnev’s rival, Frol R. Kozlov (another Khrushchev protégé, as Secretary of the Central Committee), suffered a stroke in which Khrushchev made Brezhnev the Second Secretary, the deputy party leader in July 1964.
Brezhnev Rise to Power
- Brezhnev and Nikolai Podgorny (First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine from 1957 to 1963) accused Khrushchev of voluntarism and immodest behavior, and blamed him for agricultural and economic failures. The Politburo members were threatened to vote for Khrushchev’s removal using some kind of punishment.
- Brezhnev succeeded in removing Khrushchev from power and took over Khrushchev’s position – the First Secretary of the State – on October 15, 1964, in which he became the highest political authority in the Soviet Union.
- In 1966, he became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee (the title which Stalin had served) where he played a vital role in abolishing the Regional Economic Councils that used to manage the regional economies of the Soviet Union.
- Brezhnev concentrated on foreign and military affairs. The country did not want one-man rule, so he was initially forced to govern by consensus alongside the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Nikolai Podgorny, and the Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin.
- Brezhnev became dominant in collective leadership.
- In 1965, Alexander Shelepin, the First Deputy Prime Minister, called for the restoration of “obedience and order”. As a result, Brezhnev removed Shelepin from office in 1967.
- In response to the Prague Spring, Brezhnev put forth a foreign policy known as the Brezhnev Doctrine on August 3, 1968.
- In 1976, Brezhnev held the highest military rank – Marshal of the Soviet Union.
- In 1977, Brezhnev forced Podgorny to retire from his position. He took over Podgorny’s position, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, thus making him the first person in Soviet history to hold both the leadership of the party and of the state.
- Brezhnev promoted himself to the rank of Generalissimo of the Soviet Union.
Soviet – U.S. relations
- To ease the strained relationship and political situation between the Soviet Union and the United States, and to end communism in the Soviet Union along with domestic reform, Brezhnev made a major foreign policy – the détente (easing of strained relations between countries).
- The détente held a series of summits between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States.
- With the détente, the military-industrial trade was greatly expanded and modernized, and included signing agreements on the following:
- East-West Trade
- Provision of military aid to left-wing movements and governments
- European security and human rights
- Arms control
- Prevention of accidental military clashes
- Cooperative research in space exploration and nuclear weapons
- Increase in military strength and defence
- With an overwhelming vote, the US Senate approved the agreement which became known as SALT I (the foundation for all arms limitation talks that followed) on August 1972.
- In June 19, 1973 Brezhnev visited the United States for the Summit II meeting and added some new agreements to SALT II, in a continuing commitment to peace and removing forever the danger of war. Both parties agreed to remove the danger of nuclear war and the use of nuclear weapons and helped each other to strengthen the foundations of international security as a whole.
- From June 27 to July 3, 1974. US President Nixon paid an official visit to Brezhnev in Moscow for the Summit III meeting.
- The Summit III meeting emphasized the development of relations between the US and the USSR.
- In 1975, Brezhnev and Nixon both improved the relations between the Soviet and the US, which allowed the creation of a joint United States-Soviet space program.
- However, the agreement that Nixon had envisioned came to an end when Ronald Reagan won the US election and emphasized military preparedness as the key to Soviet-American relations.
- In 1979, he reached the Salt II agreement – a new bilateral strategic arms limitation treaty with US President Jimmy Carter. However, the US Senate chose not to ratify the treaty in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which took place in December 1979.
- In 1965 With a dozen Soviet Air Force Generals and economic experts, Alexei Kosygin travelled to Hanoi to resume aiding the communist resistance in Vietnam.
- US President Lyndon B. Johnson had authorised the operation Flaming Darts (US bombing raids) on North Vietnamese soil in retaliation for a recent attack on Camp Holloway by the Viet Cong (National Liberation Front of South Vietnam).
- Brezhnev declined the invitation of US President Johnson to negotiate a treaty concerning arms control.
- In 1968, the United States invited Kosygin to a summit. The summit was marked by a friendly atmosphere.
- However, Brezhnev supported Northern Vietnam until their victory.
- Brezhnev and his officials agreed to a full intervention in Afghanistan in which, on December 24, 1979, Brezhnev deployed the 40th Army (an army level command that participated in World War II). They killed the President Amin and installed Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal from a rival faction.
- Mikhail Suslov, the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was the real mastermind behind the Afghanistan invasion and misinformed Brezhnev.
- However, it was Dmitry Ustinov, a hardliner Defense Minister, who insisted on sending the 40th army.
- President Carter denounced the intervention following the advice of his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski. It was considered the “most serious danger to peace since 1945”.
- The US boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980, and later, in 1984, the Soviet also boycotted the Summer Olympics 1984 in Los Angeles.
- As a result, the US stopped all grain exports to the Soviet Union.
Underlying Problems of Era of Stagnation
- The Soviet Union abandoned the idea of economic isolation, and instead participated in international trade.
- The Soviets relied mostly on high global oil and gold prices during the 1970’s.
- With the Lack of Economic reform, ongoing political corruption, political stagnation, social stagnation, and lack of agricultural development, the Soviet’s economy slowed dramatically in 1973.
- The USSR was far below the living standards in western countries.
- The rise of the “Black Market” grew from desperation, and the increase of bureaucracy became apparent.
- Stalin’s massive purges and financial neglect of the countryside was still being paid by the USSR.
- During the Eighth Five Year Plan (1966-1970), the Soviets concentrated on economic reform. Centralized planning production goals and guidelines for administering the economy were made. With the falling growth rates and the rapid increase of non-productive workers, the economy’s growth was slowed down in the late 1960s.
- During the Ninth Five Year Plan (1971-1976), the Soviets were more focused on agriculture, industry, and defense. While Kosygin was focused on light industry. However, the economy fell and there was no substantial improvement in the growth rate of industrial production.
- During the Tenth Five Year Plan (1976-1980), Brezhnev’s priority was the development of industry, energy, agriculture, defense, and Siberia’s reclamation. It is often referred to as “The Plan of Quality and Efficiency”, wherein the Soviet economy was dependent on the United States’ grain exports.
- The goal of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (1981-1985) was to improve the standard of living by 18% – 20% and to transition the economy from extensive to intensive growth. Food was the main central problem during this plan and 50,000 Soviet citizens were dying each year from alcohol-related illnesses.
- The government focused too much on collectivised agriculture as well as state-owned and directed industrial sector.
- Political Stagnation on USSR
- The Nomenklatura enjoyed and protected their security and privileges resulting in political fall out for the Soviet Union.
- During Brezhnev’s rule, the Communist Party became more diverse and the leadership was harder to control.
- Change in Religious Policy
- Brezhnev imposed stricter religious control.
- Economic Growth
- Industrial consumer products out-produced industrial capital goods by 21%.
- From 1928–1973, the Soviet Union eventually caught up with the economic growth of the United States and Western Europe.
- In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union had the world’s second largest industrial capacity.
- Agricultural Policy
- Brezhnev organised collective farming (agricultural production in which multiple farmers run their holdings as a joint enterprise).
- Agricultural output in 1980 was up by 21%.
- Cereal crop output increased by 18%.
- The standard of living and housing quality improved significantly.
- Brezhnev increased the social benefits which led to an increase in economic growth.
- Brezhnev provided recreation facilities and annual holidays for hard-working citizens and their families, such as beach vacations in Crimea and Georgia.
Personal Life and Health Issues
- In 1928, Brezhnev got married to Viktoria Petrovna. Viktoria and Leonid had two children: Yuri and Galina.
- During his spare time, Brezhnev loved playing dominos and enjoyed hunting and driving fast cars.
- He loved collecting medals, and while in power, he collected over 100.
- Unfortunately, in 1981, Brezhnev’s health began to decline. He was a heavy smoker and was fond of using sedatives and sleeping pills because of his insomnia. He also became addicted to alcohol.
- As an overweight man and with an unhealthy lifestyle, Brezhnev had several minor strokes and his CNS underwent chronic deterioration and he suffered from his first heart attack.
- After a series of health issues, he passed away on November 10, 1982, from sudden cardiac arrest in his sleep.
- On November 15, 1982, Brezhnev was dressed in his marshal’s uniform along with all of his medals and was buried in red square at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Moscow. His funeral was attended by leaders from 35 countries from around the world.
- On December 18 of 1966, 1976, 1978, and 1981, he was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union.
- He received the Order of Lenin for his outstanding services rendered to the state, given in 1947, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1978, and 1981.
- For his exceptional achievements in national economy and culture, he was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labour award on June 17, 1961.
- For enhancing the defences of the Soviet Union during the war, he was given the Order of the October Revolution Hero of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republiction on March 14, 1979 and on December 18, 1980.
- For his heroism in combat or other extraordinary accomplishments of military valor during combat operations, he received the Order of the Red Banner in 1942 and 1944.
- In 1979, Brezhnev was awarded the most prestigious and highest literary award of the Soviet Union – the Lenin Prize for Literature – for his series: Brezhnev’s trilogy.
- For defending and being an ally to other countries he was awarded the following:
- Hero of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria
- Hero of the Republic of Cuba
- Hero of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
- Hero of the German Democratic Republic
- Hero of the Mongolian People’s Republic
- Hero of Labor of the Mongolian People’s Republic
- Vietnam Hero of Labor
- Vietnam Gold Star Order
Leonid Brezhnev Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Leonid Brezhnev across 32 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Leonid Brezhnev worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Brezhnev who was an archetypal Soviet politician, head of the USSR, the First General Secretary of the CPSU, and the first person in Soviet history to hold both the leadership of the party and of the state. He was also known for the USSR’s massive buildup of nuclear arms. Brezhnev played a large role in improving relations between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s. Brezhnev was the best known of a three-man committee that held power of the Soviet Union for 18 years from 1964 until his death in 1982.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Leonid Brezhnev Timeline
- All About Brezhnev
- Leonid Brezhnev Timeline
- Soviet Union Notable Officials
- Brezhnev Era
- Foreign Policy
- Five Year Plan
- Era of Stagnation
- Notable Orders and Awards
- Khrushchev and Brezhnev Eras
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