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1977

Leonid Brezhnev is elected Soviet president

Leonid Ilych Brezhnev, first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party since 1964, is elected president of the Supreme Soviet, thereby becoming both head of party and head of state.

A member of the Soviet Communist Party since 1931, Brezhnev was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s protege and deputy in the early 1960s. In 1964, however, he joined in the party coup that removed Khrushchev from power, and he was named first secretary in Khrushchev’s place. As first secretary, he initially shared power with Alexei Kosygin, who succeeded Khrushchev as premier. However, Brezhnev proved a forceful leader, and he gradually emerged as the chief figure in Soviet politics.

In 1968, after ordering the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, First Secretary Brezhnev proclaimed the so-called “Brezhnev Doctrine,” which declared that the USSR could intervene in the affairs of any Eastern European nation if communist rule was threatened. Despite his suppression of democratic reform in Czechoslovakia and other Soviet Bloc nations, he promoted closer relations with the United States and the West.

In 1976, Brezhnev became the first party leader since Joseph Stalin to hold the title of marshal of the Soviet Union, the USSR’s highest military rank. In 1977, he assumed the presidency of the USSR, thus becoming the most powerful Soviet leader since Stalin. The last five years of his rule were marked by the USSR’s costly invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and a return of Cold War tensions. Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982 and was succeeded by Yuri Andropov as general (first) secretary.

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