The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

DOCUMENT No. 5: Andrei Aleksandrov-Agentov's Memoir
of the Pre-Crisis Period (Excerpt)

Source: A. M. Aleksandrov-Agentov, Ot Kollontaido Gorbacheva:Vospominaniya diplomata, sovetnika A. A. Gromyko, pomoshchnika LI. Brezhneva, Yu. V. Andropova, K. U. Chernenko iM. S. Gorbachev (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 1994), pp. 144–147.

This excerpt from the posthumously published 1994 memoir by Andrei Aleksandrov-Agentov provides
an insider's account of Leonid Brezhnev's visit to Prague in December 1967. As the Soviet general
secretary's long-time foreign policy adviser, Aleksandrov-Agentov attended the one-on-one meetings
between Brezhnev and top CPCz officials that took place for eighteen consecutive hours. The memoir
confirms that Brezhnev's original intention was to "save" Novotný, but that this goal had to be set aside
when almost all the Czechoslovak officials, even erstwhile supporters of Novotný, "insisted that Novotný
was no longer capable of effectively leading the party and the country and had lost all his authority."
Aleksandrov-Agentov acknowledges that Brezhnev's decision to return early to Moscow, after having told
the Czechoslovak leaders to sort out their own affairs, was enough to "determine Novotný's fate."

The memoir also explains why Czechoslovakia was of special importance to Brezhnev, and addresses
his relations with key CPCz officialsespecially Jozef Lenárt, Vasil Bil'ak, Miloš Jakeš, Václav David,
and Alexander Dubcek himself.

Brezhnev always believed that our relations with "Czechoslovakia" were one of the central elements both of our European policy and of a reliable balance of forces between East and West. He regarded Czechoslovakia, along with Poland and the GDR, as the core of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, and also the most reliable and trustworthy component of this core (both politically and economically).

Leonid Ilyich knew and loved Czechoslovakia. The main reasons for this were: the memories he still had of the joint military operations in which he took part with a Czechoslovak brigade in the Carpathian region toward the end of the war; his personal friendship with the brigade commander, Ludvík Svoboda; and his close friendship with the circles who had led the anti-fascist national uprising in Slovakia in 1944 (Šverma, Husák, etc.). It is undoubtedly not by accident that one of the first official trips in Europe by Brezhnev when he was the young chairman of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was his visit in May 1961 to Czechoslovakia (It was precisely during that visit that my job with Brezhnev began.) Prague, Bratislava, Plzeň, Ústí nad Labem—Brezhnev toured all these cities and several other settlements during his visit to the ČSSR. He spoke frequently at meetings both inside halls and outside the Prague Kremlin, on the squares of Bratislava and Usti, and at large factories. In addition he held many meetings and negotiations with Czechoslovak leaders.

Over the years Leonid Ilyich's wife, Viktoriya Petrovna, often visited the spas at Karlovy Vary.

During discussions about economic ties with the CMEA members, Brezhnev invariably gave Czechoslovakia one of the top-priority places.

Relations with the ČSSR leadership were always regarded in Moscow as good overall. No serious political disagreements had arisen, and any problems that did emerge (mainly about economic issues) were resolved peacefully in some way or other and in conformity with normal procedures. As far as personal contacts with the leaders in Prague are concerned, the picture was more complicated. In general Brezhnev and his colleagues got along well with the president of the republic and leader of the CPCz, Antonín Novotný, and they regarded him as a loyal ally. Nevertheless, it was evident, and Leonid Ilyich mentioned this in private numerous times, that Novotný was not an especially strong leader: He had a poor grasp of economics and lacked great political authority; he basically had to work cabinet-style. ("He's not a Gottwald or a Zápotocký,"

-23-

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