Correspondent Ján Riško from Moscow, May 12,1968 (Excerpts)
Source: ÚSD, AÚV KSČ, F. 07/15; pp. 221–224.
In this survey, the correspondent of the Czechoslovak press agency (ČTK), Jan Riško, reports on Soviet
public opinion about the Prague Spring as tensions escalated with Moscow. "The number of those
expressing approval has dropped considerably," according to his assessment, and "more and more"
Soviets are expressing "serious concern." By contrast, a report prepared two months earlier by the
Czechoslovak television correspondent O. Výborný concluded that Soviet officials and citizens who were
following events in Czechoslovakia were split almost evenly between those who supported the changes
and those who were strongly opposed.
In addition to discussing the state of elite opinion in Moscow, Riško briefly describes the cool reception
given to Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiří Hájek when he arrived in Moscow for a two-day visit on May 6.
(See Document No. 11.)
If, during the initial period after the CPCz CC plenum in January 1968 the response in the Soviet Union to developments in Czechoslovakia was rather differentiated—ranging from enthusiastic agreement to outright rejection—then four months later the situation has changed a good deal and the number of those expressing approval has dropped considerably, while there are more and more of those who express serious concern. The change of attitudes has clearly been brought about by certain items in our press that have had anti-Soviet undertones.
On questions of principle the current party and state leadership of the USSR is most concerned about positive developments for utilitarian reasons. According to many quarters, any shift by Czechoslovakia away from the Soviet Union and the CPSU would create great difficulties for the leadership at home. While it has been possible to explain the defection of Yugoslavia, China, Albania and Romania, it would no longer be possible to explain to the party and state apparatus or to the public a shift by Czechoslovakia.
In that case voices would emerge from the rank and file claiming that the Soviet leadership is not acting correctly in matters of the international communist movement. At the same time, the group in the CPSU leadership that would like to take over the leadership from Brezhnev and run all domestic and international affairs much more firmly could well attempt to achieve its goal. This group exists in the Politburo itself, but is in a tight spot at the moment; its main representative is Shelepin.52 Events in Czechoslovakia are objectively reinforcing its positions, as has been confirmed by a well-informed source around the general secretary's associates. Foreign journalists widely believe that this group may try to achieve its objective against the general secretary before the end of the year but that is something the source I mentioned considers unlikely.
This may explain why at the April session of the CPSU Central Committee Brezhnev allegedly argued that the processes in Czechoslovakia are positive but that anti-socialist elements were trying to exploit and misuse those processes. Brezhnev's speech at the Central Committee session is said to have somewhat calmed the considerable fears in the Soviet Union about future developments in Czechoslovakia.
… "Section deleted on Moscow talks."
32 Other well-placed observers have offered similar speculation that Brezhnev's position vis-á-vis Czechoslovakia in
1968 was influenced by an internal challenge from Shelepin or others; see, in particular. Zdeněk Mlynář, Nachtfrost:
Erfahrungen auf dem Weg vom realen zum menschlichen Sozialismus (Köln: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1978),