A native of Ukraine took over the supreme post in the Soviet Union 45 years ago

The new leader put an end to the reforms his predecessor had started and pushed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) into a conflict that led to the collapse of the state.

On 16 June 1977, Leonid Brezhnev, a political commissar turned politician who got promoted to the top of the administrative and party hierarchy of the Soviet Union, was elected president of the Supreme Council Presidium, the highest administrative position in the world’s largest country.

Until then, Brezhnev had acted as the secretary-general of the USSR Communist Party, the political force that controlled the real power in the country, and the new position promoted him to the nominal rank of head of state.

Being originally from Ukraine, at that time one of the 15 republics annexed by Russia in its vicinity, Leonid Brezhnev identified himself both as Ukrainian, due to his mother who came from a peasant family in the Donbas region, and Russian, an ethnicity inherited from his father, a worker who came to Soviet Ukraine from the city of Kursk, Russia.

Residents in a Soviet city queueing for bread early on the day. Credit: Back-in-USSR Project

Brezhnev assumed leadership in both positions from Nikita Khrushchev, a former close associate of dictator Joseph Stalin (Dzhugashvili), who had launched a series of liberal reforms in the USSR and exposed some of Stalin's crimes. Unlike Khrushchev, described by Soviet historians as impulsive and adventurous, Brezhnev was considered a tempered bureaucrat, who had a habit of finding compromises with colleagues.

Brezhnev's name is associated with economic stagnation, endemic corruption, and the cult of personality. He was one of the initiators of the military intervention in former Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the author of the doctrine based on the "right to interfere in the internal affairs of allies for the sake of saving socialism."

Surprisingly, when the Solidarity trade union became a political movement capable of overthrowing the communist regime in Warsaw in 1981, Brezhnev vehemently opposed the invasion of Poland, preferring that the western neighbor manage its political crisis on its own.




  • Instant access
  • No registration
  • No subscription
  • Valid during current session
  • Active copy-paste feature
  • Secure payment