May 7

This Day in History

Cold War

May 7, 1960:

Brezhnev becomes president of the USSR

Leonid Brezhnev, one of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's most trusted proteges, is selected as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet—the Soviet equivalent to the presidency. This was another important step in Brezhnev's rise to power in Russia, a rise that he later capped by taking control of the Soviet Union in 1964.

Brezhnev had been a trusted associate of Khrushchev since the 1940s. As Khrushchev rose through the ranks, so did his protege. After Stalin's death in 1953, Khrushchev rapidly consolidated his power and succeeded in becoming First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This position had always been the real seat of power in the Soviet Union—the first secretary was able to control the vast Communist Party apparatus throughout the Soviet Union. The position of president (or, more formally, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet) was largely symbolic. The president often greeted foreign visitors and handled more mundane government matters, but policymaking always rested with the first secretary. In May 1960, Khrushchev named Brezhnev to the position of president. While the post meant little in the way of real power, it did allow Brezhnev to come into contact with numerous foreign dignitaries and visitors and to travel the world as a representative of the Soviet government. He made the most of these opportunities and was soon viewed as an efficient and effective official in his own right, not simply a puppet of Khrushchev.

In 1964, Khrushchev was removed from power and Brezhnev was named new first secretary. Brezhnev held that post for 18 years until his death in 1982. His era was marked by a certain blandness of rule, a much-needed stability in Soviet ruling circles, a sometimes harsh repression of the Soviet people, and a hard-line attitude toward relations with the United States.

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