The Tale of Two Yuri(es): A Story of Corruption and Diamonds

This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

My spelling of the plural version of the name Yuri is criminal, but it cannot compare to the crimes of the children of Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, Galina and Yuri. The reign of Brezhnev has been labeled as the “age of stagnation” for the vast amount of corruption in the top levels of power. This all became public information in 1988 with the high military tribunal of the son-in-law of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Churbanov. Mr Churbanov was the second highest Soviet police official from 1980-84 and married to Galina Brezhnev, with her saying saying the marriage was a political one. While the son of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri, was more of a shadowy figure and worked as the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade in the 1980s. This will come into play later.

Link – Mir open-air diamond mining pit, located in Siberia.

Let’s start with Galina, whose wild lifestyle had lead to the complete discrediting of Leonid as a father. In 1951, her first marriage was to a circus traveler, Evgenii Milaev. Mr. Milaev was four years younger than Galina and has been in the circus since he was eighteen. Leonid disliked Milaev for his age and occupation and would harass Galina on his way to work as the first secretary of the Moldavian party by finding Galina still in bed and taunt her with a long pole above her head and saying “giddy up”. This marriage would end eight years later when Milaev angrily broke Galina’s crystal collection and hit Galina. In 1971, Galina married her second husband, Yuri Churbanov, and was a militiaman at the time. After the marriage, he quickly leaped up in his career. Yuri was much more like Leonid and impressed many in his uniform. They used the new luxury apartments that were rapidly awarded to them to indulge in parties with a large amounts of booze.

Galina very much loved the life of luxury so much, she often collected diamonds and jewelry for her own personal collection. Some of these collections were given stories called the “diamond legends”. One involved the museum in the Georgian town of Zugdidi, which contained two relics, the death mask of Napoleon and the diadem of Queen Tamara. In 1975, Galina visited the museum and demanded the diadem to be given to her as a present. The director of the museum, mad with grief, called the first Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, who called Leonid Brezhnev with that they deeply respected Galina, they could not give away their national heritage. Leonid replied with “Send Galina home!”.

Another diamond legend was in 1981 during the festival of the Moscow circus. Galina Brezhnev wore her best diamonds, but was outshone by the lion tamer Irina Bugrimova. A couple days later, Irina’s diamond collection was stolen. It just happens to be only several days later, Boris Buryatse, Galina’s lover, was apprehended at Sheremetyevo airport with a portion of the stolen collection in his luggage.

Link – Cotton being piled for storage

Mr. Churbanov was not clean either. The biggest scandal of them all was The Uzbek Affair, the Soviet equivalent of Watergate. It involved the cotton industry of Uzbekistan and how politicians had stolen billion of rubles through padding cotton harvest numbers. Mr. Churbanov was arrested in January 1987 and the closest person related to Brezhnev family to get arrested with many other Uzbek officials. Several officials committed suicide during the investigation, including Mr. Churbanov’s boss, Nikolai Shchelokov. All those who were in the investigation had all their property confiscated. It wasn’t until Gorbachev came into power that the investigation would be opened again and Yuri Brezhnev would be arrested and forced to retire from his government position.

Primary Sources:

Lyuba Brezhneva, The World I Left Behind. 1980

Brezhnev Son-in-Law Gets 12-Year Term By Bill Keller and Special to the NEW YORK TIMES DEC. 31, 1988


SON-IN-LAW OF BREZHNEV IS ARRESTED By Dusko Doder February 4, 1987


Kremlin Wives: The Secret Lives of the Women Behind the Kremlin Walls—From Lenin to Gorbachev page 210 (Diamond legends)

The Kremlin Princess Galina Brezhneva – Smart History Blog

6 Replies to “The Tale of Two Yuri(es): A Story of Corruption and Diamonds”

  1. Peter, what a fascinating narrative! Your writing in this post is so intriguing, and your wide source base contributes so much depth. Rich people (ironic since they weren’t supposed to exist in the Soviet Union) make for some wild stories. Great job!

  2. Thanks so much for this! What a story….and you know, I knew most of this already…but had somehow missed one very important and one really interesting (to me anyway) point. The important one is that I never realized that the diamond mine was an open pit mine — this makes the “cost” of gems ever so much higher, IMO. But what really got me was the bit about Igrimova’s diamonds! Have you checked her out? She was a pretty formidable lion tamer. I don’t think I would mess with her.
    Seriously, though — good detective work here and thank you for connecting this tale of corruption to the broader crisis of political legitimacy in the late Soviet period.

  3. Cool Stuff, Peter. It looks like Galina had the same fascination with accolades and prestige that her father had. This is an interesting lense for looking at corruption during the Brezhnev regime.

  4. This was a really interesting post! I didn’t know a lot about the corruption that went on during the Brezhnev era, so this was really illuminating!

  5. This post is so cool! You’re a great story teller, and I was immediately hooked by your title! I never associated the Soviet Union with the diamond industry before, and it’s really interesting.

  6. This is quite an interesting story, and shows corruption can be found anywhere. I think this highlights some of the politicking and corruption that went on in the Soviet Union. Some of these stories are ridiculous and one can barely believe they really happened to real people. I thought the pictures were a nice touch that complimented the content. Great post!

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