November 10

This Day in History

Cold War

Nov 10, 1982:

Leonid Brezhnev dies

After 18 years as general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev dies on this day. His death signaled the end of a period of Soviet history marked by both stability and stagnation.

Brezhnev came to power in 1964 when, along with Alexei Kosygin, he was successful in pushing Nikita Khrushchev out of office. For the next 18 years, he brought a degree of stability to Soviet politics unknown since the Stalinist period. However, his time in office was also marked by forceful repression of political opponents and dissidents, a massive military buildup that bankrupted the Russian economy, and a foreign policy that seemed confusing at best.

During Brezhnev's reign political repression took on more and more ominous overtones. Dissidents such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov were harassed and sometimes sentenced to internal exile. His program to bring the Soviet military to parity with the United States drove the Russian economy to the breaking point; by the late 1970s economic growth was almost at a standstill. His foreign policy was often confusing for U.S. officials. On the one hand, he seemed to approve of the idea of "peaceful coexistence," pushed for control of nuclear weapons, and helped the United States in its negotiations with North Vietnam. On the other, he unleashed Soviet forces against Czechoslovakia in 1968, became involved with revolts in Ethiopia and Angola in the 1970s, reacted in a threatening manner during the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1973, and ordered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. By the end of his rule, discussions about nuclear arms control had almost completely lapsed.

Upon his death in November 1982, Yuri Andropov took control of the Soviet Union.

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