Military Preparations for the Invasion
Source: "Shli na pomoshch' druz'yam," Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, No. 4 (April 1994),
This excerpt from the memoirs of Lt. Gen. Semyon Mitrofanovich Zolotov, a top-ranking officer in the
Main Political Directorate of the Soviet armed forces, covers the last two weeks of military preparations
for "Operation Danube" and the first hours of the invasion.
Zolotov's account reveals how eager and impatient many of the Soviet commanders were as they readied
their troops for the invasion. Most of the officers, as Zolotov recalls, were "genuinely alarmed" by what
was going in Czechoslovakia, and wanted to resolve the crisis as soon as possible. This sense of urgency
was shared by Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Andrei Grechko, who had long been warning of the dangers
that would arise if events in Czechoslovakia were to continue unchecked. Zolotov claims that when Grechko
conducted his inspection tours of Soviet military units in the second week of August before the Politburo
had made its final decision, the defense minister informed the commanding officers that they should "expect
to send their forces into Czechoslovakia in the very near future."
Zolotov also reports that Grechko expressed concerns about the prospect of NATO intervention on
Czechoslovakia's behalf. When asked during one of his inspection visits what Soviet troops should do if
they encountered violent resistance, Grechko responded that it was highly unlikely they would meet any
resistance from the Czechoslovak army, but that the Soviet Union "could not exclude the possibility of an
incursion, from the west by NATO." Intelligence and diplomatic reports to the Kremlin demonstrated,
however, that Western Europe and the United Stated did not intend to intervene to save the Prague Spring.
… It became known at around this time "in early August" that Army-General S. M. Shtemenko had been appointed the new chief of staff of the Joint Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact member states.65 He was highly respected in military circles for his outstanding organizational capabilities and for the vast experience he acquired during the Great Patriotic War and in the postwar period. In addition, the new appointment of Sergei Matveevich, who had headed the Operations Directorate of the General Staff during the Great Patriotic War and had thus been involved in planning all the most important wartime operations, made the possibility of conducting largescale operations within the framework of the Warsaw Pact more likely.
Before long I received orders to return to the army command post. A good deal of work awaited me in acquainting myself with the new units and formations and with the way their combat and political preparations, troop service, and party-political work were organized. In accordance with the orders they had received, the troops remained in their field camps, concentrated in the Transcarpathian region. In addition to the standard formations of the army, there were already divisions from other regions redeployed here. Along with the commander, I ventured out to these formations and spoke to people. Although the officers did not refer directly to a possible thrust into Czechoslovakia, they understood very well why such a large buildup of troops was under way in the Transcarpathian region.66 Many comrades expressed genuine alarm at the way events were developing in the ČSSR, and they were psychologically ready, it seemed, to take decisive action.
On 12 August the USSR Minister of Defense, Marshal of the Soviet Union A. A. Grechko, the chief of the Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy, Army-General
65 The announcement that Shtemenko would be replacing General Mikhail Kazakov as chief of staff of the Warsaw
Pact came on 5 August.
66 Although this segment, like the rest of Zolotov's memoirs, focuses primarily on the experiences of Soviet troops
based in the Transcarpathian region, many of the events and impressions described here apply equally to other units
involved in the invasion.