The Brezhnev Doctrine's Influence on Eastern Europe

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  • 0:03 Brezhnev Doctrine and…
  • 0:31 Background
  • 1:39 Brezhnev Doctrine
  • 3:27 The End in the 1980s
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the Soviet Union's grip on Eastern Europe in the second half of the 20th century and the Brezhnev Doctrine, which dictated its actions in several countries.

Brezhnev Doctrine and Eastern Europe

In the second half of the 20th century, the Soviet Union acted very much like a strict, overbearing father to its neighbors in Eastern Europe. The other communist nations of Eastern Europe were free to do as they pleased - until they stepped out of line with strict Soviet doctrine. If they did, the Soviet Union punished the transgressors, often severely. This Soviet policy of control and coercion in Eastern Europe was known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.


Near the end of WWII, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union met at several conferences to determine what postwar Europe would look like. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill made key concessions to appease the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and hopefully secure his participation in the United Nations, which the Western governments created soon after the war. In return, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to recognize Soviet 'influence' over the governments of several Eastern European states. The Soviets claimed they needed this influence to create a series of 'buffer states' to protect the Soviet homeland from future Western aggression.

After the war ended, with Soviet troops still occupying most of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union saw to the installation of Soviet-friendly communist parties and governments in each state. The Soviets essentially created client states out of most of Eastern Europe in the states of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. This group of states became known to the West as the Eastern Bloc.

Brezhnev Doctrine

The Soviet Union's firm grip upon the other nations in Eastern Europe is best exemplified by the Brezhnev Doctrine. Named for Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet premier and leader of the Communist Party from 1964 until his death in 1982, the Brezhnev Doctrine stated that all communist countries in Eastern Europe were responsible for promoting the health of the communist parties throughout the region. Any perceived weaknesses in a national communist party or any attempted relaxation of communist measures were to be met with military intervention by all other Soviet-controlled countries. It should, however, be noted that the 'Brezhnev Doctrine' was not a real policy within the Soviet government - the term was actually created by the Western media, who used it to describe Soviet policy in Eastern Europe.

The strictness of this policy was displayed in Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the face of a struggling economy and popular distaste for communist measures, the Czechoslovakian communist party removed its leader and replaced him with Alexander Dubcek. Dubcek was a reformer, by communist standards, and he ended censorship of the press in 1968 and enacted some liberal economic reforms. The relaxation of press censorship allowed for greater public debate concerning communism, and anti-communist demonstrations erupted across the country.

Fearing the unrest in Czechoslovakia might spread, Moscow resolved to invade Czechoslovakia and reinstall a more conservative communist government. Soviet forces faced minimal opposition as they rolled across Czechoslovakia, swiftly taking control of major cities. Before long, the Soviets had forced Dubcek to step down and imposed a strict form of communism and ended the short-lived freedom of the press. Though guerilla movements fought Soviet troops in the countryside for another year or so, communist order was well and truly restored in Czechoslovakia.

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