Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the USSR from 1964-1982, played an influential role in the Soviet Union’s dealings with other countries. Born in Dneprodzerzhinsk, Ukraine, Brezhnev succeeded Nikita Khrushchev as First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1964 and was immediately faced with the United States-Soviet Union conflict, the Cold War. Extreme tensions between the United States and the USSR had developed after World War II due to the division of postwar Europe and the issue of the spread of communism, which led to a nuclear arms race between the two world powers. Brezhnev attempted to ease tensions from the Cold War with the Democratic West by leading negotiation talks with the United States. However, Brezhnev’s endeavors to ease tensions with the West crumbled when he called for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Leonid Brezhnev’s invasion into Afghanistan as well only hurt the Soviet Union and further worsened its tensions with the West. Although he led negotiation talks with the United States, Leonid Brezhnev failed to ease tensions with the democratic West through his overseeing of invasions into Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.
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Leonid Brezhnev led a series of successful negotiation talks with the United States in an attempt to ease tensions with the West from the Cold War. There were lingering tensions between the Soviet Union and the West from the nuclear arms race in the Cold War. In order to improve relations with the West, Brezhnev entered into a period of détente with United States president Richard Nixon. This however would be short-lived, with the United States and Soviet Union competing for influence in the Middle East, Chile, and Angola (LaFeber). Nixon visited the Soviet Union in 1972 and signed SALT I, Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, with Brezhnev on May 26, at a meeting in Moscow. This constraint of anti-ballistic missile systems was the first of many negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States and the West. For his efforts to improve relations with the West, Leonid Brezhnev was rewarded greatly, receiving the Lenin Peace Prize in 1973 for his negotiations with the United States (Cornfield). Although the USSR was grateful to Brezhnev for his improvement of relations with the United States in his negotiation talks, he would later receive criticism from all around the world, including the USSR, for his aggressive tactics when he led invasions into Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan to protect Communism influence. In his time of leadership over the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev signed many agreements with the West promoting commerce and world peace. In 1975, Brezhnev signed the Helsinki Agreement, where the Soviet Union promised to refrain from any intervention in affairs that fell within the domestic jurisdiction of other participating states, regardless of their relations. According to the agreement, the Soviet Union was supposed to respect basic human rights; however, “In the years that followed, the Soviet Union was found to be in substantial violation of the accords’ human rights provisions” (Curtis). Brezhnev also signed the SALT II agreement, which put a limitation to strategic offensive arms and was a continuation of progress made from SALT I, with United States president Jimmy Carter. However the progress made between the Soviet Union and United States was shattered when Leonid Brezhnev ordered an invasion on Afghanistan. As a result, “the Carter administration withdrew the SALT II agreement from the Senate and canceled a number of agreements with Moscow, formally ending the rapprochement” (Knott). Although Leonid Brezhnev made significant progress to improve tensions with the West from the Cold War, he destroyed his own advancement through the subsequent decisions he made.
Leading an invasion into Czechoslovakia in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev provoked tensions with numerous democratic Western nations. Since the Warsaw Pact in 1955, Czechoslovakia was under a sphere of Soviet Influence. In 1968, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia quickly began to liberalize their rule and strengthen Western ties. As a result, the Brezhnev-led Soviet Union, as well as other Warsaw Pact nations led an invasion of Czechoslovakia and established a new regime. Despite the massacre of dozens of civilians and a period of military presence, the SU failed to shut down resistance completely, and in 1989 the people of Czechoslovakia finally gained social and political freedom, which became known as Prague Spring. The invasion appalled Western Democratic nations, and according to Czechoslovakian President Ludvik Svoboda, the Soviet Union occupation by Warsaw Pact allies was “illegal and committed without the government’s consent” (BBC). News of the invasion stunned Western Democratic countries and brought criticism to the Soviet Union from everywhere. As a result of Brezhnev’s actions, “many Western communist parties and communist Yugoslavia and Rumania dissociated themselves from the USSR’s actions” (BBC). Western journalists compared the invasion to Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland and even Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia (King). Leonid Brezhnev’s excuse for this violation was his Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated the Soviet Union’s right to “intervene in the domestic affairs of any Soviet bloc nation if communist rule was at risk” (Kaufman). Brezhnev’s excuse for his actions only led to condemnation from Democratic countries. In a statement, US President Lyndon Johnson said the invasion was a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and that Brezhnev’s excuses were “patently contrived” (BBC). Leonid Brezhnev violated the principals of the UN Charter, which was an international organization established shortly after WWII committed to maintain international peace and security and develop friendly relations among nations, as well as promote social progress and human rights, when he called for the invasion of Czechoslovakia, a fellow UN member. Brezhnev’s actions to impose communism security brought the destruction of the beneficial relations he built with the democratic West. Despite how badly the Democratic West viewed Leonid Brezhnev’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, Brezhnev’s later actions would result in even worse tensions toward the Soviet Union.
Leonid Brezhnev’s decision to invade Afghanistan brought disaster to the Soviet Union and fueled still existing tensions between Communist USSR and the Democratic West. In 1978, a small group of Afghan communists seized power in Kabul, Afghanistan, launching reforms, which outraged conservative Afghan tribes who called for a holy war against the Communist Soviets. To help out the situation, Brezhnev sent in Russian troops, a decision that would be heavily criticized both nationally and internationally because it “embroiled the Soviet Union in an unwinnable war and whose far-reaching consequences are still being felt today” (Borrero). On hearing news of the Soviet invasion, the world was stunned, and Democratic leaders were appalled. US President Jimmy Carter referred to the attack as “an extremely serious threat to peace” and “a violation of the United Nations Charter” (Wahab). During their occupation in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union’s economy collapsed because of the cost of the war, its military power was sapped, and it was unable to exert as much influence in Eastern Europe as it had twenty years earlier (Weems). As a result of Brezhnev’s invasion on Afghanistan, Carter withdrew the SALT II agreement with the Soviet Union and cancelled other agreements with Moscow. Brezhnev’s decision to invade Afghanistan became one of the most criticized aspects of Soviet foreign policy because of its violation of the UN Charter and its economic and military cost (Cornfield). Angered by Brezhnev and the USSR’s decision, outside countries reacted and “The United States, Pakistan, Iran, China, and the Saudis sent money and weapons to help the mujahideen (Afghani guerrilla rebels) kill Russians” (Weems). Also because of the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, the US put a grain embargo on the SU and boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics in 1980 (Curtis). According to a Russian history expert, “Brezhnev’s decision embroiled the Soviet Union in an unwinnable war where consequences are still being felt today” (Borrero). Blinded by his desire to defeat his enemies, Brezhnev lost sight of Soviet social ideals and ignored economic erosion, which led to the gradual decline of one of the great world powers at that time. Because of the invasion, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union continued up until Brezhnev’s death. He never withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan; the USSR remained there until Brezhnev’s death. In his later years Brezhnev experienced poor health and failed to improve the Soviet’s crumbling economy, which the war in Afghanistan was responsible for. There was a shortage of goods in Russia, and many powerful economic countries including the US refused to trade certain goods to the Soviets for their involvement in Afghanistan (Curtis). Besides destroying the Soviet Union’s military, economic, and political strength and influence, the invasion of Afghanistan was a major setback for relations between the Soviet Union and the Democratic West.
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Although in the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev was seen as a hero for the critical, aggressive decisions he made for his country and Communism, the Democratic West regards him as an abusive tyrant for bold actions which caused a rise in tensions between the Soviet Union and the West. Brezhnev initially made a series of successful attempts to improve lingering tensions between the Soviet Union and the Democratic West. The invasion of Czechoslovakia led to the condemnation of Brezhnev and the SU in many Western Democratic countries. Leonid Brezhnev’s decision to invade Afghanistan significantly hurt the Soviet Union and also destroyed any relations they had held with the United States and the Democratic West. For much of his time in office, Leonid Brezhnev was a very powerful and influential leader, but unfortunately his bold, decisive decisions, which appalled the Democratic West, destroyed all the effort he put into improving Western relations and portrayed him as a villain to the Western world.
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