Changes to Foreign Policy

See Brezhnev Foreign Policy

Changes to Domestic Policy

Brezhnev blamed the downward spiral of the Soviet quality of life, along with the international and other domestic troubles when he became leader mainly on the policies of Khrushchev, which he claimed were too lenient. Therefore, he began to return to the iron-fisted rule of Stalin, although not as intense as under Stalin, through his policy of re-centralization. Eager to avoid the troubles caused by increased freedom in the USSR, Brezhnev restored much of the power the KGB had in the Stalin days and purged certain individuals, such as the writers Yuri Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky, marking the Soviet degeneration back to a suppressive cultural policy. The purges however, did not become as severe as under Stalin.

Yet, although politically tightening his grip on the USSR, Brezhnev also allowed decentralization to some extent of industry. While still following the five year plans, factory managers could now make more decisions. However, as the five year plans only set out quotas for the factories, the priority became quantity and lowering the government’s expectations of the factory so they could produce over the quota and receive special perks, rather than supplying quality consumer goods, which were in high demand and short supply. This, along with other factors such as the arms and space races, which were extremely costly and given priority concerning funding and resources over consumer goods, led to the eventual stagnation of the Soviet economy and a call for reform.

Emigration was also restricted, however solely by the difficulties imposed by the Soviet government to emigrate, such as high emigration taxes, which were meant to cover the costs of the person’s education.


Brezhnev's Rise to Power

Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was in Kamensk, Ukrainia in 1906. In 1923, he joined the Communist Youth Organization, and in 1931, the Communist Party. After holding a few different positions in his local party, Brezhnev’s career began to flourish, with increasingly more powerful positions, such as, first secretary of the Moldavian Communist Party in 1950, and in 1952, he became a member of the Politburo. When Khrushchev came to power, in 1954, Brezhnev aligned himself with him, dedicating himself to putting his policies into effect. Through this loyalty, he became increasingly powerful, and was given the position of chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet after he worked against an attempted to overthrow Khrushchev. In July 1964, he was given the position of second Secretary of the Central Committee, and was essentially Khrushchev’s assistant. In October, he helped to lead an alliance that overthrew Khrushchev from power, and became the first Secretary of the party, becoming the General Secretary in 1966. Although Brezhnev was allied with Aleksei Kosygin, who became Premier, Brezhnev became the leader with the real power.


Chinese Relations during Brezhnev's Reign

When Brezhnev first came to power in 1964 relations with China were already falling apart. The Sino-Soviet split began in the late 50's and reached it’s peak in 1969 under Brezhnev. One event that furthered the split was after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mao Zedong criticised the Soviet Union for backing down. In 1964, after Khrushchev was replaced with Brezhnev, tensions were temporarily decreased and Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai visited Moscow to try to resolve the split with the new leader. He left the Soviet Union claiming that they were still practising “Khrushchevism without Khrushchev”. In 1966, Mao Zedong started the Cultural Revolution in which the Communist Party launched a campaign to rid China of bourgeoisie influences. The revolution was denounced by the Soviet Union and tensions increased. In 1967 the Sino-Soviet took a new face after a Soviet embassy was stormed in Beijing. With this rose the issue about the Chinese-Soviet borders. The Chinese claimed the borders that were formed during the Qing Dynasty and Tsarist rule were never fully determined and that they were unfair to China. Mao insisted that they needed to be re-evaluated and new treaties signed. Brezhnev did not acknowledge China’s claim and refused to set a meeting. After this both sides steadily increased the numbers of troops posted on the border. In 1968, after the crushing of the revolution in Czechoslovakia, China developed a military strategy called ‘active defense’ to protect their border. They defended their strategy by claiming that they feared a Soviet Invasion. It consisted of ambushing the Soviet Union in small spots along the border to preoccupy the Soviets and prevent them from invading China. In 1969 when Chinese soldiers attacked at Zhenbao Island, the Soviet’s retaliated by storming Zhenbao Island. Each side claimed that the other had suffered more casualties than the other and the clashes along the border lead to the Soviet Union and China to the brink of nuclear war. After realizing the seriousness of their conflict, both Brezhnev and Mao Zedong took steps to lower the tension and create a sense of détente. During this time the countries entered border negotiations, although relations between the two countries remained cold, and nothing serious was accomplished until after the fall of the Soviet Union. The last border dispute between China and Russia was not resolved until 2005.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis the leaders of both the US and USSR sought a state of détente. When tensions started to increase between China and the Soviet Union both sides tried to improve relations with the West. Each country feared the outbreak of nuclear war and knew that whatever country could come to an agreement with the United States first would be guaranteed a retreat by the other. Also, during this time the Soviet Union was facing extreme social and economic problems and wanted to come to a trade agreement with the US. It was during this time that the leaders met in Helsinki and Moscow for the SALT talks.