The Brezhnev Doctrine

Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning tank in Prague.
During the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning tank in Prague. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Brezhnev Doctrine was a Soviet foreign policy outlined in 1968 which called for the use of Warsaw Pact (but Russian-dominated) troops to intervene in any Eastern Bloc nation which was seen to compromise communist rule and Soviet domination. It could be doing this either by trying to leave the Soviet sphere of influence or even moderate its policies rather than stay in the small parameters allowed to them by Russia.

The Doctrine was seen clearly in the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring movement in Czechoslovakia which caused it to be first outlined.

Origins of the Brezhnev Doctrine

When the forces of Stalin and the Soviet Union fought Nazi Germany west across the European continent, the Soviets did not liberate the countries, like Poland, which were in the way; they conquered them. After the war, the Soviet Union made sure these nations had states who would largely do what they were told by Russia, and the Soviets created the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance between these nations, to counter NATO. Berlin had a wall across it, other areas had no less subtle instruments of control, and the Cold War set two halves of the world against each other (there was a small 'non-aligned' movement). However, the satellites states began to evolve as the forties, fifties and sixties passed by, with a new generation taking control, with new ideas and often less interest in the Soviet empire.

Slowly, the 'Eastern Bloc' began to go in different directions, and for a brief time it looked like these nations would assert, if not independence, then a different character.

The Prague Spring

Russia, crucially, did not approve of this and worked to stop it. The Brezhnev Doctrine is the moment Soviet policy went from verbal to outright physical threats, the moment the USSR said it would invade anyone who stepped out of its line.

It came during Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring, a moment when (relative) freedom was in the air, if only briefly.

Brezhnev described his response in a speech outlining the Brezhnev Doctrine:

"...each Communist party is responsible not only to its own people, but also to all the socialist countries, to the entire Communist movement. Whoever forgets this, in stressing only the independence of the Communist party, becomes one­ sided. He deviates from his international duty...Discharging their internationalist duty toward the fraternal peoples of Czechoslovakia and defending their own socialist gains, the U.S.S.R. and the other socialist states had to act decisively and they did act against the anti-socialist forces in Czechoslovakia."


The term was used by the Western media and not by Brezhnev or the USSR itself. The Prague Spring was neutralized, and the Eastern Bloc was under the explicit threat of Soviet attack, as opposed to the previous implicit one. As far as Cold War policies go, the Brezhnev Doctrine was entirely successful, keeping a lid on Eastern Bloc affairs until Russia gave in and ended the Cold War, at which point Eastern Europe rushed to assert itself once more.