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The Russian Empire found itself embroiled in World War I less than a decade after its sound defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and went on to lose more than 9 million people in the conflict. The high costs of the war added to the grievances of educated radicals and struggling workers who were fed up with the Russian autocracy. Half a century later, Brezhnev was contending with large NATO buildups, a proxy war in Vietnam and, later, a war in Afghanistan and popular uprisings in the Eastern Bloc. Many Soviet leaders, aware that the system was stretched beyond its capacity, feared the ferment within and along its borders would erupt into a widespread uprising.

Given the strain on the imperial and Soviet systems, advisers to the czar and then the secretary general advocated reforms to keep their governments from collapse. Nicholas II acquiesced after the failed Revolution, agreeing to give the Russian people greater freedom to elect their legislators. The result was a legislature in which radical or liberal lawmakers occupied one-third of the seats. Prime Minister and Interior Minister Pyotr Stolypin saw the writing on the wall and urged the czar to overhaul Russia's political system to create an independent working class who would still be loyal to the crown.

Stolypin's proposed reforms might have averted the Russian Revolution of and brought the empire closer in line with its more prosperous Western counterparts. But the czar stalled on the measures, preoccupied with war underway internationally and the revolutionary sentiments rising at home. Brezhnev, too, resisted suggestions to reform the Soviet system in the mids.

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Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin proposed a raft of changes to decentralize the Soviet economy and to make the working class more driven, innovative and productive by introducing incentives, such as pay raises and bonuses. The plan, however, met with opposition from the Soviet bureaucracy hardly a surprise since it aimed to reduce the number of economic administrators in the government and was only partially implemented.

Brezhnev further centralized the economy and reaffirmed the Soviet system's emphasis on gross output, increasing the pressure on workers who were by now coming to resent their government.


Martin Walker, a British journalist and author, wrote that Russia underwent "a social revolution while Brezhnev slept. Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's last leader, saw signs of the coming destabilization and tried to implement the economic, social and political reforms to stave it off. By then, though, it was too late.

100th anniversary of Russia’s October revolution

Soviet Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev spent nearly two decades in power. Within three years of his death in , two other leaders, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, also died in office. As the Russian government takes on an ever-more authoritarian role, Putin now faces the familiar question of whether to adapt his government to accommodate his changing country. Kudrin left the Kremlin in during a fierce debate over how to manage Russia's resources. He now proposes gradually decentralizing the ownership of Russia's strategic enterprises, such as energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom, to give them a boost in capital and technology.

Taking into account Gorbachev's experience, he understands that the system can't handle too much change too quickly — though he also knows that time is short. Kudrin has cautioned that if the Kremlin doesn't introduce economic and political reforms now, its stability will be at risk in the years to come. An astute student of his nation's history, Putin has nevertheless failed to heed Kudrin's warnings. Instead, like Nicholas II and Brezhnev before him, he has continued to reinforce the system he built. And the Russian president has introduced an additional element of uncertainty to the mix: With no clear successor in place, the system hinges on him, at least for now.

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Putin's reluctance to reform may be due to his grasp of the differences between the Russian Federation, the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. Contemporary Russia, for example, isn't interested in retracing the borders of the immense Russian Empire or Soviet Union as it works to influence nearby countries. The Kremlin understands its limitations well enough to know it can't manage that many diverse lands and peoples.

What's more, it recognizes, despite its rhetoric, that outside powers aren't trying to collapse the Russian Federation. He formally took power over the Soviet Union in , holding power until his death. He consolidated power over the Soviet Union through violent means during the early years of his regime. Khrushchev denounced the violence of Stalin, but reform measures were largely ineffective and did not help the Russian people. Mikhail Gorbachev Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union.

How modern Russia navigates and balances its Soviet past

Under his rule, the Soviet Union dissolved, bringing a final end to the Cold War. Boris Yeltsin Boris Yeltsin was the first elected president of Russia. He oversaw significant reforms, including financial, social and political. Vladimir Putin Putin, a conservative, was elected in December He held office for several years as President, serving as Prime Minister thereafter.

Matthew Dal Santo. But does the evidence really support the phenomenon such commentators believe they see?

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