Brezhnev (Late Russia)


Key Terms

  • Nomenklatura
    • Politburo was dominated by Krezhnev's supporters, and by 1981, eight of the 14 full Politburo members were his proteges: four of these were part of the 'Brezhnev Mafia'. These appointees opposed significant or radical changes, and increasingly undermined efforts by would-be reformers such as Kosygin, in both political and economic areas.
    • To maintain stability, Brezhnev continued to use this system- this was essentially a long list of 'reliable' party members who could be appointed to state and administrative positions
  • Neo Stalinism and Political Dissidents
    • Brezhnev made it clear that there would be no return to Stalin's methods, it was obvious that dissent would not be tolerated. However, as the Soviet system produced more and more well educated people, these people became increasingly frustrated, and some turned to protest and dissent.
  • Détente
    • Cooling down period after the Cuban missile crisis, of which the two countries came to several agreements
  • Helsinki Accord
    • Part of the conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
    • This committed the USSR to upholding the basic principles of human rights, such as free speech and freedom of assembly and conscience
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Political developments (1964-85)

Political developments under Andropov (1982-84)

  • He was backed by the military and the KGB
  • On becoming General Secretary, Andropov made a number of personnel changes at intermediate and lower levels in the economic and party apparatuses
  •  Decided to take a much tougher line on corruption
  • His main focus was on economic reform
  • His main aim was to reform the administration to help push through his economic reforms.
  • Andropov was also encouraged ordinary citizens to voice complaints to officials, and he took a more sympathetic attitude to nationalist unrest. He even made attempts to try to persuade certain dissidents that their criticisms were harming the country
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Political developments (1964-1985)

Political developments under Chernenko (1984-85)

  • Succeeded Andropov as the next General Secretary
  • He was the candidate favoured by the conservative anti-reform faction
  • His approach was designed to maintain stability  and his main political 'initiatives' were to carry on with Andropov's campaign against corruption, and to concentrate on education.
  • He also tightened censorship, and took a hard line on dissent; though he did try to address some of the issues of the non-Russian nationalities. Significantly, though, he dropped plans to reduce the bureaucracy.
  • In August 1984, Chernenko became seriously ill. By this time, Gorbachev had become chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Soviet Union- he then took charge of ideology which made him apparently Chernenko's unofficial deputy. In early 1985, Chernenko's health deteriorated further and there began a jockeying for position between those supporting Gorbachev and a younger set of enthusiastic reformers, and those favouring stability and more experienced personnel. Gorbachev made it known that he was strongly in favour of reducing military expenditure and securing arms reductions by negotiations with the West
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Afghanistan (1979)

The one that had the greatest impact on Soviet security was the decision to send  troops into Afghanistan in December 1979. Although it was not the main cause of the end of the détente, it was the final act which officially, brought détente to a close. Intended as a step to maintain Soviet security, it actually ended up undermining it because of the economic and political problems the intervention caused. As Afghanistan had common borders with the USSR's central Asian republics, it had been generally accepted by the west that it lay with the USSR's 'sphere of influence'. Hence, when the People's democratic party of Afghanistan carried out a military coup in April 1978, the West accepted the new communist government.

However, this pro-Soviet PDPA government soon came under attack from conservative feudal landowners and religious fundamentalists who opposed its reforms. Brezhnev's government became increasingly worried by the threat of Islamist fundamentalism spilling across the borders into the Central Asian republics- especially when evidence mounted that Pakistan (with US support) and Iran were already supporting such groups. Brezhnev was also concerned that failure to intervene in this Soviet 'sphere of influence' might lead the communist states in Eastern Europe to think that the USSR was no longer willing to act on the Brezhnev Doctrine to maintain Soviet control there, or to resist US power.

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Afghanistan (1979)

Consequently, following a new coup in December 1979, when the new communist government in Kabul requested military assistance, the soviet union sent in troops. By April 1980, there were over 100,000 soviet troops in Afghanistan.

The Soviet leaders expected no serious consequences, and were greatly surprised by the strength of the US response. As well as ending détente and launching the Second Cold War, the US imposed a boycott on exports of grain and technology to the USSR, and other countries followed suit. These actions led to some shortages in the USSR. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan soon became a massive drain on both manpower and the already-struggling Soviet economy. By the time Brezhnev died, it was clear that this had become the USSR's 'Vietnam'- a war it could not win; and it was one of the most important factors behind Gorbachev's push after 1985 for the need for 'new thinking'

In fact, events in Afghanistan illustrate the wider impact of Brezhnev's aim to maintain Soviet defences at levels comparable with the USA's. Although he had achieved parity with the US in many areas, the domestic effect was an increasing shortage of certain consumer goods. This not surprisingly contributed to growing dissatisfaction and thus a developing domestic and foreign political crisis with which Brezhnev's successors had try to deal. 

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  • These problems made détente with the West an attractive proposition. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 initially prevented better East-West relations, but from around 1969 Brezhnev's attitude was an important factor in the development of the period of détente. Kosygin, in particular, worked hard to improve relations with the West, as he hoped the Soviet economy could gain from increased access to Western technology
  • Brezhnev reasoned that, from a position of strength, he could negotiate a reduction in nuclear weapons and import western technology. This policy of negotiating with the West for weapons reductions really got underway in 1969 and 1970, with the beginnings of the SALT talks.
  • In 1972, further agreements were made which attempted to slow down the nuclear arms race; while in August 1973, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe eventually led to agreements which recognised existing borders in Europe. At the same time, several trade deals were signed with the US and its Western allies, including West Germany. So until the mid-1970s, Brezhnev's foreign policies brought some benefits as a result of reasonably stable East-West relations
  • However, in December 1978, there was a big increase in US defence spending, which began a new arms race. This marked the unofficial start of the Second Cold War. As a result of this, a second SALT agreement was never ratified by the US. 
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Czechoslovakia- 'The Prague Spring'

  • Developments in Eastern Europe continued to be of crucial importance to the Soviet Union. Brezhnev's main aim in Eastern Europe was to maintain the USSR's buffer zone of satellite states established by Stalin after the end of the Second World War. The first serious issue arose in Czechoslovakia, where problems came to a head in January 1968, when Alexander Dubcek became the country's first secretary, with Brezhnev's approval.
  • Dubcek had been an admirer of Khrushchev's reforms, and called for significant reforms in Czechoslovakia. He also travelled to Moscow, in an attempt to reassure Brezhnev that the reforms would not threaten the Warsaw Pact and Soviet security.
  • At first the Soviet leadership appeared prepared to accept his plans. Dubcek's reforms, known as the 'Prague spring', were intended to create 'socialism with a human face'. Though the Czechoslovak Communist Party retained its leading role, non-communist organisations began to appear. Soon, an opposition party of sorts was formed.
  • When these political developments were combined with Dubcek beginning negotiations with the IMF and other Western financial organisations to arrange loans, the USSR became increasingly concerned. In July, Eastern European leaders sent the Warsaw Letter to Dubcek, warning him to stop his reforms- but he refused.
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Czechoslovakia- 'The Prague Spring'

  •  Brezhnev then authorised an invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces in August 1968 to end the 'Prague Spring'. Dubcek was removed from power, and replaced by Gustav Husak.
  • Shortly after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, in November 1968, Brezhnev made a declaration known as the Brezhnev Doctrine which claimed the right to interfere in the internal affairs of its Comecon and Warsaw pact allies if Soviet security, or the gains of the people's republics, were under threat. In effect, this was a statement of intent - the Soviet union would intervene if necessary to prop up the existing regimes in Eastern Europe
  • Towards the end of his rule, Brezhnev had to deal with growing unrest in Poland, where the unofficial trade union Solidarity organised growing protests and strikes against the government's economic policies. Moreover, during Brezhnev's time in office, some Eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Romania, were increasingly taking actions independently from Moscow. To an extent, this was because as part of détente, many had made trade and finance deals with Western states and banks. These independent actions were continued after Brezhnev's death, and contributed to the crisis which unfolded in the late 1980s.
  • By early 1980s, Brezhnev's concerns about security in Eastern Europe were intensified had given way to the Second Cold War. 
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