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Summary Article: Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Soviet leader. A protégé of Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, he came to power (after he and Aleksei Kosygin forced Khrushchev to resign) as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) 1964–82 and was president 1977–82. Domestically he was conservative; abroad the USSR was established as a military and political superpower during the Brezhnev era, extending its influence in Africa and Asia.

Brezhnev, born in the Ukraine, joined the CPSU in the 1920s. In 1938 he was made head of propaganda by the new Ukrainian party chief, Khrushchev, and ascended in the local party hierarchy. After World War II he caught the attention of the CPSU leader Stalin, who inducted Brezhnev into the secretariat and Politburo in 1952. Brezhnev was removed from these posts after Stalin's death in 1953, but returned in 1956 with Khrushchev's patronage. In 1960, as criticism of Khrushchev mounted, Brezhnev was moved to the ceremonial post of state president and began to criticize Khrushchev's policies openly.

Brezhnev stepped down as president in 1963 and returned to the Politburo and secretariat. He was elected CPSU general secretary in 1964, when Khrushchev was ousted, and gradually came to dominate the conservative and consensual coalition. In 1977 he regained the additional title of state president under the new constitution.

He suffered an illness (thought to have been a stroke or heart attack) March–April 1976 that was believed to have affected his thought and speech so severely that he was not able to make decisions. These were made by his entourage, for example, committing troops to Afghanistan to prop up the government. Within the USSR, economic difficulties mounted; the Brezhnev era was a period of caution and stagnation, although outwardly imperialist.

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