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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.


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.


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

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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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