The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968
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Publish Year note: First published December 16th 2009
On August 20, 1968, tens of thousands of Soviet and East European ground and air forces moved into Czechoslovakia and occupied the country in an attempt to end the "Prague Spring" reforms and restore an orthodox Communist regime. The leader of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, was initially reluctant to use military force and tried to pressure his counterpart in Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubcek, to crack down. But during the summer of 1968, after several months of careful deliberations, the Soviet Politburo finally decided that military force was the only option left. A large invading force of Soviet, Polish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops received final orders to move into Czechoslovakia; within 24 hours they had established complete military control of Czechoslovakia, bringing an end to hopes for "socialism with a human face."
Dubcek and most of the other Czechoslovak reformers were temporarily restored to power, but their role from late August 1968 through April 1969 was to reverse many of the reforms that had been adopted. In April 1969, Dubchek was forced to step down for good, bringing a final end to the Prague Spring. Soviet leaders justified the invasion of Czechoslovakia by claiming that "the fate of any socialist country is the common affair of all socialist countries" and that the Soviet Union had both a "right" and a "sacred duty" to "defend socialism" in Czechoslovakia. The invasion caused some divisions within the Communist world, but overall the use of large-scale force proved remarkably successful in achieving Soviet goals. The United States and its NATO allies protested but refrained from direct military action and covert operations to counter the Soviet-led incursion into Czechoslovakia.
The essays of a dozen leading European and American Cold War historians analyze this turning point in the Cold War in light of new documentary evidence from the archives of two dozen countries and explain what happened behind the scenes. They also reassess the weak response of the United States and consider whether Washington might have given a "green light," if only inadvertently, to the Soviet Union prior to the invasion.
the actual sorry predicament of the Moscow-led interventionist coalition. Politically speaking, the Kremlin had ended up in a cul-de-sac. The plan to install a revolutionary government, which had been legitimated to an extent by “recommendations” given to Bil’ak and the “healthy forces” by the Politburo of the CC CPSU before the invasion, was in tatters. Given the tense situation in Moscow, President Svoboda, subsequently and for long time to come was celebrated as “Czechoslovakia’s savior,”
the aftermath of the Vietcong offensive, the Mississippi senator made a final break with the administration. Under Johnson’s policies, Stennis observed, the U.S. action was contained “by the boundaries of Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam.” At the same time, the enemy used the port of Haiphong and several other ports restricted from U.S. bombs to resupply and rearm its troops. Under those circumstances, Stennis reasoned, the United States could expect to wait a long time and lose more men in
December 1974, VD, mf. 073, APCI. 44. Tel. Paris embassy to Department of State, 10 October 1968, FRUS 1964–68, XII: doc. 84. 45. In general, on this topic see Valerio Riva, Oro di Mosca. I finanziamenti sovietici al PCI dalla Rivoluzione d’ottobre al crollo dell’URSS (Milan: Mondadori, 1999). 46. On redefinition of Soviet national security, see Matthew J. Ouimet, The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
judgment: “That means, dear comrades, behind your back this highly praised politician of yours carries out his anti-socialist, anti-Party activities.” Once more he quoted the WDR interview. From Brezhnev’s point of view, Smrkovský answered the question as to what was to be done in the ČSSR with a challenge: “Perhaps something that no communist party has done, namely the combining of socialism with freedom.” Brezhnev clarified that the CPSU regarded the events in the ČSSR not as an “experiment”
planning. The reasoning behind the secretary-general’s trip to Prague, which had been arranged on a short-term basis as an excursion during his stay in Vienna, where he took part in a conference, was that it was extremely unlikely for a serious confrontation to erupt during U Thant’s presence in Prague. The hint from Moscow, which was delivered by UN Ambassador Leonid Kutakov, was outspoken enough; U Thant was asked to rethink once more “all aspects of this question” lest he should “find himself