The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

DOCUMENT No. 96: Cable to Ambassador Stepan Chervonenko
rom Moscow with a Message for President Svoboda, August 19,1968,
and Chervonenko's Response, August 21,1968

Source: APRF, Prot. No. 38; and ÚSD, Arch. Komise, Z/S—MID, Nos. 37, 39; Vondrová &
Navrátil, vol. 2, pp. 211–212.

Moscow's efforts to ensure that Soviet and East European troops entering Czechoslovakia on August
20/21 would encounter no armed resistance are reflected in these cables. The first cable, sent via the "Hot
Line "on 19 August by the CPSU Politburo, directs the Soviet ambassador in Prague, S. V. Chervonenko,
to transmit a collective "Appeal" to President Svoboda on behalf of the "Five." The "Appeal" informs
Svoboda that the Soviet Union and its allies have decided to "provide armed assistance" to "a majority
of the members of the CPCz CC Presidium" who seek to "resist counterrevolution and defend the gains
of socialism in Czechoslovakia," and pledges that the incoming troops will behave as "faithful friends of
the Czechoslovak people "and will be withdrawn "whenever the president and government of the ČSSR
deem this to be necessary." The message then politely but firmly urges Svoboda to "call on the army and
people of Czechoslovakia not to resist the troops of the fraternal countries and instead to welcome them
as friends," adding that this would be the only way to "avoid unnecessary incidents and victims."

Ambassador Chervonenko delivered the message to Svoboda shortly before midnight on August 20,
when "Operation Danube" was already under way. The Soviet ambassador brought with him a draft
appeal that Svoboda could issue to the Czechoslovak army and people, but the Politburo had instructed
Chervonenko to be tactful when offering such assistance and to raise the matter only if Svoboda "responded
favorably to the request of the fraternal parties." Chervonenko found it unnecessary to present Svoboda
with the draft, however. Although the ČSSR president was disconcerted when he learned of the invasion,
he immediately agreed to do whatever he could to prevent bloodshed, an objective that remained
paramount during the entire post-invasion period. Svoboda soon ordered the army not to take up arms
and delivered a brief public message calling on all ČSSR citizens to remain calm and avoid violence. The
message was broadcast several times over Czechoslovak radio starting at 8:15 A. M. (along with numerous
other appeals for calm) and was published in the second edition of Práce on August 21.

Ambassador Chervonenko's return cable to Moscow on August 21 reports Svoboda's position as
positively as possible: Svoboda "doesn't welcome the intervention of the troops," Chervonenko writes,
but pledges "never to cut his ties with the USSR."

Proletarians of all countries, unite!

Communist Party of the Soviet Union, CENTRAL COMMITTEE

STRICTLY SECRET

No. P96/IV

To: Cdes. Brezhnev and Gromyko

Extract from protocol No. 96 of the session of the CPSU CC Politburo on 19 August 1968

On Instructions to the Soviet Ambassador in Prague

To affirm the draft instructions to the Soviet ambassador in Prague and the text of the attached material (see attached).

-405-

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