Best known for: Leader of the Soviet Union during the Cold War
Leonid Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union for 18 years during the height of the Cold War from 1964 to 1982. His leadership is known for its massive build up of nuclear arms, but at great cost to the Soviet economy.
Where did Leonid grow up?
He was born in Kamenskoe, Ukraine on December 19, 1906. His father was a steelworker. Leonid went to school to learn engineering and later became an engineer in the steel industry.
Leonid Brezhnev by David Hume Kennerly
Communist Party member
Leonid was involved in the Youth Communist Party as a teen and then joined the Communist Party in 1929. After Stalin's Great Purges killed and removed many party officials and leaders in the late 1930's, Brezhnev quickly rose in the party ranks.
During World War II, Brezhnev was drafted into the army where he was a political officer. There he came into contact with Nikita Khrushchev, a powerful member of the party. Brezhnev continued to gain promotions throughout the war and left the army in 1946.
Rise to Power
Brezhnev rose to power in the Communist Party over the next several years. In 1957 he became a full member of the Politburo. Nikita Khrushchev was leader of the Soviet Union at the time. Brezhnev continued to support Khrushchev until 1964 when Khrushchev was removed from power and Brezhnev became the General Secretary of the Central Committee and leader of the Soviet Union.
Leader of the Soviet Union
Brezhnev was the driving force in the Soviet government for 18 years. Below are some of the major characteristics of his leadership and events during his rule.
Cold War - Brezhnev led the Soviet Union during much of the Cold War Era. His government took part in the Arms Race with the United States building up huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons. In 1971 he instituted a thawing of relations with the US termed "detente". This included signing the SALT I agreement in 1972 in an effort to reduce nuclear arms as well as meeting with US President Richard Nixon in 1973.
Politician - As leader, Brezhnev was able to stay in power for many years. This was because he was a great politician. He worked with his fellow leaders, listened to them, and made sure they agreed on major decisions.
Domestic Policy - Brezhnev's government had a policy of repression. He clamped down on cultural freedoms including freedom of speech and the press. He also largely ignored the economy, building a massive nuclear arsenal and army that, over the long term, nearly crippled the Soviet economy.
Vietnam War - The Vietnam war was already ongoing when Brezhnev took office. He supported Northern Vietnam until their victory.
Afghanistan War - Brezhnev made the decision to send Soviet troops into Afghanistan. This war drug on for years and was the source of much embarrassment for the Soviet army.
Leonid Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982 after suffering from a heart attack.
Facts About Leonid Brezhnev
He was married to Viktoria Petrovna. He had a son, Yuri, and a daughter, Galina.
Brezhnev loved to get medals. He had over 100 medals awarded to himself while in power.
He liked to play dominos. He also enjoyed hunting and driving fast.
His first job was at a butter making factory.
Many Russians feel that the Brezhnev Era was one of the greatest periods in the history of Russia. Despite the economic stagnation, the country was considered one of the two world superpowers.