Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev – Soviet politician
Many Russians remember his era as a “golden age” (zolotoi vek) when living standards steadily improved. This was the result of his policy of borrowing from the West, combined with the twofold doubling of world oil prices and a deliberate decision after 1971 to reallocate production in favor of consumer products and foods.
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was born in 1906 in the village of Kamenskoye. Both his grandfather and father worked in the iron and steel plant. After school Brezhnev went to work in the local factories. When he was 17 he joined the Young Communist League, became interested in farm collectivization, and went to study in Kursk.
When he was 25, Brezhnev returned to his hometown and studied metallurgy, graduating from the local institute in 1935.
In 1941 at the outbreak of World War II in the USSR, Brezhnev joined the army as a political officer. In 1944 he was promoted to major general.
At the end of the war he became leader of the Communist Party in Moldavia.
Brezhnev spent the next two years in Kazakhstan, where he became involved in developing new lands for agriculture.
On October 15, 1964, Leonid Brezhnev became first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). From 1960 to 1964, he was a president of the Soviet Union.
Like many people at the time, Brezhnev was fascinated by the achievements of Yuri Gagarin, and he poured much government energy and resources into space research.
On May 26, 1972 U.S. president Richard Nixon and Brezhnev signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty at a summit meeting in Moscow. In 1973, Brezhnev traveled to the United States.
It was in the mid-1970s that Brezhnev’s health began to show serious signs of dilapidation. In early 1975, he suffered a stroke and a heart attack at the same time. He could not speak for two months, and a paralysis of facial muscles wiped away his former attractiveness. Brezhnev’s doctors managed to soften the aftermath of his illness, but by then he was quite another person. He became suspicious and a hypochondriac. His crafty intelligence weakened. On top of this, he suffered from insomnia, for which he chewed sleeping pills like candy, frightening his staff with his increasingly bizarre behavior. Trying to control him, they watered down his vodka and gave him placebos instead of his potent sleeping pills. This created a viscious circle, as Brezhnev, frustrated by the weak pills and booze, ate and drank all the more. Doped up, he drove his sports cars with nary a care, almost killing himself and his terrified bodyguards.
Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982 and was buried in Red Square in Moscow.
For many years Brezhnev had been a familiar figure on the international stage. He had also received more public honors than most Soviet leaders, including the Lenin Peace Prize in 1973, the title of marshal of the Soviet Union in 1976, the Order of Victory (the highest military honor) in 1978, and the Lenin Prize for Literature (for his memoirs) in 1979.
Brezhnev’s successor as general secretary of the CPSU was Yuri Andropov. He had been the man who had actually carried out Brezhnev’s policies of putting dissidents in mental asylums and forced internal exile.
Encyclopedia of Russian History
Britannica Student Encyclopedia