The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

DOCUMENT No. 106: The Invasion in Retrospect: The Recollections
of General Ivan Pavlovskii

Source: "Eto bylo v Prage," Izvestiya (Moscow), August 19, 1989, p. 5.

In August 1989, as a Soviet reevaluation of the Prague Spring crisis began. Izvestiya conducted
interviews with two key players in the invasion. One was with Soviet Army-General Ivan Pavlovskii,
commander-in-chief of Soviet Ground Forces and deputy minister of defense in August 1968, and supreme
field commander of the invasion. The initial plan for the invasion, General Pavlovskii confirms, called for
Warsaw Pact Commander-in-Chief Marshal Ivan Yakubovskii to direct operations. Pavlovskii does not
explain why control was transferred directly to the Soviet High Command but other sources, including
Pavlovskii's deputy, General Ivan Ershov, have suggested that the change occurred because the Soviet
Defense Minister Marshal Andrei Grechko disliked Yakubovskii and persuaded the other members of the
Soviet Politburo that orders might not be followed strictly enough within the pact's untested structures.
General Pavlovksii acknowledges that he depended heavily on Yakubovskii to determine how the invasion
should be carried out, and he also describes how closely Grechko and General Kirill Mazurov supervised
the operation on behalf of the Politburo. Soviet military officers in the field had surprisingly little discretion
of their own, even on relatively minor issues.

(See also Documents Nos. 99, 104 and 107.)

Interviewer: Ivan Grigorievich, I suppose it was tough for you to accept the command of an operation that was so unusual for a general, one that was conducted on the territory of a fraternal country….

Pavlovskii: I was appointed commander on 16 or 17 August, some three to four days before the start of the operation. Initially, it was suggested that Marshal Yakubovskii be placed in charge of the allied forces. He organized all the practical preparations. But suddenly Defense Minister Grechko summoned me: "You've been designated the commander of the units that will be entering Czechoslovakia."

I flew to Legnica (in Poland), and went to the headquarters of the Northern Group of Forces. There I met Yakubovskii. He showed me on the map which divisions would be used and what directions they'd be coming from. The operation was scheduled to begin on 21 August at 1:00 A.M. Grechko warned: "Orders will be sent to you from Moscow, and your task is to ensure that they're carried out."

At the designated hour the troops set off. I got another phone call from Grechko: "I just spoke to Dzúr "the ČSSR minister of national defense" and warned him that if, God forbid, the Czechs open fire on our troops, this will have dire consequences. I asked him to order Czechoslovak units not to move out anywhere and not to open fire, so that they won't come into confrontation with our forces."

Roughly an hour after the troops set out, Grechko phoned me yet again: "How's it going?" I reported to him that such-and-such divisions were in such-and-such a place. I also reported that in certain areas people had gone out onto the roads to block the convoys, but that our troops were managing to get around these obstacles…He warned me not to leave the command post without his permission. And suddenly I got another call: "Why are you still there? Fly immediately to Prague!".

… We flew to Prague and circled two or three times above the airport; we couldn't see anyone and we couldn't hear any voices, nor could we see any airplanes. We landed.…Lt. Gen. Yamshchikov met me at the airport, and I went with him to the General Staff headquarters to

-431-

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