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The Power Vertical

Leonid Ilyich And Vladimir Vladimirovich

A man looks at a cartoon depicting Premier Vladimir Putin (left) and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in a magazine in Moscow.
A man looks at a cartoon depicting Premier Vladimir Putin (left) and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in a magazine in Moscow.
A lot has already been written about the interview Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov gave to the independent television network "Dozhd," in which he praised Leonid Brezhnev's rule.

In Moscow, within the Garden Ring, you can hear words about Putin’s Brezhnevization. People who say this usually do not know anything about the Brezhnev’s period. You know, Brezhnev is not a minus for our country’s history. He is a huge plus. He set up the base for our economy, agriculture, and so on.

WATCH THE VIDEO:



Peskov is correct, but only to a point. By Soviet standards, as I have blogged here and here, the early part of Brezhnev's rule was seen as a success. His "stability of cadres" policy gave the elite job security (and personal security) that they lacked in during the Stalin and Khrushchev periods. He brought the Soviet Union to rough military parity with the United States. Living standards, again by Soviet standards, rose -- mostly thanks to rising oil prices.

And then came the late 1970s and early 1980s. Stability of cadres kept an ossified and moribund elite in power. Oil prices dropped, crippling the Soviet economy leading to shortages of consumer goods. Militarily, the Soviet Union began to fall behind the West.

On the Brezhnev timeline, Putin (who has been in power for 12 years) is now in the late 1970s -- 1976 to be exact, just before things started to fall apart.

Interestingly enough, 1976-77 was also when Brezhnev was widely rumored to be considering resigning. Accounts vary, with some claiming that Brezhnev decided against this himself and others suggesting that he was talked out of it by the Soviet leadership.

The 2008 Russian documentary film, "Leonid Brezhnev: Burnt By Power," cites members of the ruling elite as saying that Brezhnev wanted to resign in 1976 but was urged to stay by his inner circle because nobody else was capable of balancing the interests of the various clans in the ruling elite. Sound familiar?

One thing that jumps out at you about the documentary is that in the early part of his rule, Brezhnev looks healthy, athletic, and positively Putin-esque -- before degenerating into the doddering stumbling Brezhnev we all remember.

WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY HERE:


Putin was also widely rumored to be looking for a way to step down back in 2007 and, according to some reports, was not thrilled about the prospect of returning to the presidency in 2012.

But like Brezhnev, he is the only one seen as capable of balancing the interests of the competing clans in his ruling circle.

The more things change...

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Leonid Brezhnev

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: SeansRussiaBlog from: Pittsburgh, PA
October 07, 2011 18:22
I'm always a bit wary of simple historical comparisons, though I am tend to make them myself. Basically, it's too soon to tell if Putin will be another Brezhnev. I think its important to remember that Russia has a long history of rulers in power for decades, and it always didn't end in degradation.

That said, I think one issue you bring up is worth thinking about in regard to Putin as Brezhnev: "Like Brezhnev, [Putin] is the only one seen as capable of balancing the interests of the competing clans in his ruling circle." If this is true, and I suspect it is, then this should cause us to reconsider how we view Russia. Namely, that a) Putin is a prisoner of the system he created 2) my own touted notion of the "contradiction of centralization" (see my Putin comment: http://bit.ly/qxbAHo); 3) Russia's ruling class and state is weaker than its given credit; 4) Russia's future might be more dire than a Brezhnev. If Putin keeps the elites together then Putin as Lenin might be a more apt comparison just for the infighting that might erupt when he finally leaves.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 07, 2011 19:14
"it's too soon to tell if Putin will be another Brezhnev"

But surely, Sean, you don't advocate that we wait until we know for sure that Putin is another Brezhnev before we oppose him, right? Surely, we don't have to wait until we see people marching into a new GULAG archipelago (as if we don't already see that), right?

Surely, you admit that those who told us Putin would not return, and who therefore advocated doing nothing to oppose his return, badly misled us, and that we should be extremely careful about repeating that awful, costly, paintful mistake again. Right?

After all, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!

We at LR find it highly inadvisable to take any kind of advice about how to address current events from historians. With their heads buried in the sands of the past, their comments can't but be useless at best, dangerous at worst.
In Response

by: GaryD from: Washington DC
October 10, 2011 11:20
There are plenty of reason not to like Putin - being a new Brezhnev seems to be the least of it. The only way he could be considered another Brezhnev is to define "being Brezhnev" so loosely as to make it meaningless. I mean, the social and economic conditions are totally different, his power over the country is much less, he hasn't had a stroke or whatever it was, isn't an alcoholic, and on and on.

"We at LR find it highly inadvisable to take any kind of advice about how to address current events from historians. With their heads buried in the sands of the past, their comments can't but be useless at best, dangerous at worst."

I hope you intended a large helping of hyperbole here! Historians have a lot to say that's valuable; you just have to know how to use what they say. For example, trying to understand Russia without knowing how power was exercised in the Soviet days is madness.
In Response

by: Mark from: Canada
October 10, 2011 23:11
Your final paragraph contains a typo, and should read;

"We at LR find it highly inadvisable to take any kind of advice from anyone who actually knows anything, opting instead to rely upon whatever noxious trash Novaya Gazeta makes up, because what we like to hear will always triumph over what is real".

As evidence of your general unreliability, I offer the reality that Russia has been a country - or a federation - for longer than the USA has been a union of states, and has still not collapsed. On average you have predicted its immediate collapse, or actually argued that such a collapse is already in progress, every two months for the past four years. You have yet to forecast the collapse of the United States. Yet Russia has the third-largest cash reserves in the world and the lowest debt in the G20, while the USA is the world's biggest debtor in terms of external debt owed to foreign creditors. I'd be hard-pressed to name a current historian with that kind of dismal record.

In case you go to your veterinarian for financial advice, or some random person who tells you what you like to hear, I feel ethically bound to tell you that having a lot of external debt is a very bad position, while having large cash reserves is a very good position. While forecasting the USA's collapse based on this would be foolish, it could be argued that under present conditions the USA is considerably closer to collapse than Russia is.
In Response

by: Maria from: Ritterdam
October 11, 2011 21:12
And who are you to give any kind of advice or analysis on Russia?

by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 08, 2011 12:54
"Putin was also widely rumored to be looking for a way to step down back in 2007 and, according to some reports, was not thrilled about the prospect of returning to the presidency in 2012."

-- Maybe that was propaganda, designed to get us to drop our guard and lower resistance to his return?

"But like Brezhnev, he is the only one seen as capable of balancing the interests of the competing clans in his ruling circle."

-- If that is true, Russia is only putting off the day of its collapse, because Putin will not live forever. Soon after Brezhnev disappeared, so did the USSR. Will Russia disappear with out Putin? If so, it is a country in name only.

by: GaryD from: Washington, DC
October 09, 2011 16:24
'Clans' is a convenient short-cut, but is that really accurate? I think of them more as retainers, people who owe their power to Putin personally and are allowed to steal as much as they can so long as they don't get carried away, and they respond when Putin calls. They have their own retainers, but loyalty is barely skin deep, and the retainers won't hesitate to replace their bosses if given the opportunity.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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