The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview
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DOCUMENT No. 91: Ambassador Stepan Chervonenko's Report on His
Meeting with Czechoslovak President Ludvík Svoboda, August 17,1968

Source: AVPRF, F. 059, Op. 58, P. 124, D. 574, LI. 49–62.

This memorandum of a conversation recounts a secret meeting between Czechoslovak President Ludvík
Svoboda and the Soviet ambassador in Czechoslovakia, Stepan Chervonenko, just a few hours after the
Soviet Politburo had reached a final decision to go ahead with the invasion. Acting on orders from Moscow,
the ambassador first provides a detailed explanation of the events that culminated in the Politburo's A ugust
17 decision (without initially mentioning the decision itself). In direct language, Chervonenko informs
Svoboda that the "use of extreme measures," including military force, "could not be excluded," although
he offers no hint that the invasion is imminent. The document records the Czechoslovak president's
dramatic warning: military intervention would be a "catastrophe" and would cause the Czechoslovak
people to "lose all faith in the Soviet Union for many generations to come.… Don't you dare resort to
military means to resolve the situation," Svoboda emotionally demands. At the end of his report
Chervonenko nevertheless asserts that the Czechoslovak president would "stand with the CPSU" when
"the most trying and critical moment came."

"Chervonenko began the conversation by describing the recent telephone conversation between Brezhnev and Dubček and by informing Svoboda about the CPSU Politburo's message of 13 August. He then referred to many of the CPCz's "obligations" that were still unfulfilled."

Things will get even worse, I warned, unless a blow is struck against the rightist, anti-socialist, and anti-Soviet forces.…Dubček's and Černík's behavior after the Čierna and Bratislava meetings gives reason to believe that they are trying to deceive the CPSU CC Politburo and the leaders of the parties that met in Bratislava. This provides a basis for regarding the non-fulfillment of obligations that were undertaken at Čierna as a betrayal by the CPCz leadership of its fraternal relations with the CPSU and a betrayal of friendship with the USSR.

When this conclusion was drawn, Svoboda nearly shouted: "No! Dubček is not deceiving the CPSU! He is not deceiving the USSR! He's an honest man and a friend of the USSR; you must have faith in him! Have faith in us!"

In response, I said that the question now is not about the personal side of things, but about the behavior of Dubček and Černík as political figures who are not free from concrete duties and responsibilities. On the contrary, they belong to the leadership of the party and state. Can the failure to uphold an agreement and fulfill obligations be regarded as normal in relations between parties and countries? I cited cases from the history of interstate relations, including relations between states with different social systems, when an open or secret agreement had been achieved and carried out in the name of a higher goal. There is simply no way to explain certain aspects of the behavior of Czechoslovak leaders, whose actions had caused the CPSU and other parties to trust them less and less. This may require the CPSU CC Politburo to respond to its party and world opinion by doing away with the secrecy surrounding the Čierna agreement and renouncing commitments that were valid only as long as the Czechoslovak leadership fulfilled its own commitments. I told the president directly that the CPSU CC Politburo will do what is required by the circumstances, but will never permit the socialist gains in fraternal Czechoslovakia to be damaged. As far as having trust in Dubček and Černík, this cannot somehow be divorced from their political behavior and their posture toward the USSR in deeds, not in words. I cited a number of arguments and factors regarding Dubček's behavior that evoke serious anxiety. It was evident that Svoboda began to lose his blind faith in Dubček; he was distressed and surprised, and at times, almost as in a cross-examination, he interjected comments to the effect of "How could this have happened?" "Why would Dubček behave this way?" and so forth.


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