The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

DOCUMENT No. 23: Memoir of Andrei Aleksandrov-Agentov
on Internal Soviet Deliberations about Czechoslovakia (Excerpts)

Source: A. M. Aleksandrov-Agentov, Ot Kollontai do Gorbacheva: Vospominaniya diplomata,
sovetnika A. A. Gromyko, pomoshchnika L. I. Brezhneva, Yu. V. Andropova, K. U. Chernenko
i M. S. Gorbacheva. (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 1994, pp. 147–149.)

Aleksandrov-Agentov affirms that, despite numerous other pressing domestic and international is-
suesVietnam, Sino-Soviet tensions, agricultural shortfalls among other problemsthe Czechoslovak
crisis dominated the CPSU Politburo's agenda after March 1968. Initially, according to Aleksandrov-
Agentov's account, CPSU leaders were sharply divided in their views of what to do about Czechoslovakia.
For a considerable time, Brezhnev "was undecided and was still thinking things over, and he wanted to
hear what others thought." Not until later on, when Brezhnev finally decided to take the lead in forging
a consensus, were the disagreements among Politburo members overcome. Aleksandrov-Agentov argues
that although Brezhnev did not want "blood to be spilled," he believed the "loss of Czechoslovakia "would
endanger other communist regimes in Eastern Europe (notably East Germany and Poland) and possibly
his own position as CPSU general secretary.

(See also Document No. 5.)

… A long and arduous period of searching for a resolution to the "Czechoslovak problem" began for the Soviet leadership and its allies. The question of the situation in Czechoslovakia never left the agenda of Politburo sessions or of contacts with our allies. And of course it was always present during contacts with Prague.

The arguments were long and heated. Once I had to attend a session where a group of roughly 15 people (members and candidate members of the Politburo, CC secretaries, and one or two heads of CC Departments) collectively drafted the text of a letter, the purpose of which was to help the CPCz leadership "see the light." What a horrible spectacle that was! It took many hours to draft the text, particularly because everyone tried to add their two cents, often contradicting what others had said. There were "hawks," there were some who came close to being "doves," and there were some who were cautious and reserved. The only thing missing was a common, unified approach to the matter. And Brezhnev at that point was not yet ready to serve as a tuning fork. He himself was still undecided and still thinking things over, and he wanted to hear what others thought. This sort of thing happened on numerous occasions.

As the process of "liberalization" in Czechoslovakia gathered pace, calls were voiced with increasing urgency for the sending of troops into the ČSSR to halt what was regarded as a dangerous process. The most urgent calls of all came from Ulbricht and Gomułka, who were worried about the security of their own countries if Czechoslovakia broke away from the alliance. We, too, had our hotheads who demanded that we "intervene decisively." During one of these sessions (sometime in the spring of 1968), the Soviet ambassador to the ČSSR, Chervonenko, who was taking part, said bluntly: "If we resort to such a measure as the sending of troops without necessary political preparations, the Czechoslovaks will resist—and blood will be spilled." No one wanted this. For several months Brezhnev adhered to an extremely cautious position. Nevertheless, during one session he temporarily left his chairman's seat and, sitting down for a minute next to Chervonenko, said to him: "If we lose Czechoslovakia, I will step down from the post of general secretary!"

The "political preparations" to which the ambassador referred, or rather the search for some sort of mutually acceptable agreement with the Dubček leadership of the CPCz, continued for a long time—more than half a year—in different forms.

-102-

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