Russia´s post-invasion trauma
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial staff. We believe that publishing articles such as this fosters discussion.
Source: Fleet Sheet Friday Edition, August 31, 2018 by Erik Best
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was the subject of our analysis last week, told Le Nouvel Observateur of Paris in early 1998 that the U.S. started financing the Mujahideen before the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union as a way to increase the probability of intervention by Moscow. The official version of history, he said, is that the CIA's aid began in 1980, but in reality, the funding to opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul was secretly approved on July 3, 1979, by Pres. Jimmy Carter. Brzezinski was Carter's national security adviser at the time and said that he has no regrets about what came later. "What is most important to the history of the world?" he asked. "The Taliban, or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirredup Muslims, or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"
In a long interview in the June issue of a Russian history magazine about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Russian political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov explained that the major difference from the West's standpoint between the two invasions was that Czechoslovakia was an acknowledged part of the Soviet sphere of influence, whereas Afghanistan was not. Whether the West liked the Cold War division of Europe or not, Lukyanov said, it accepted this division. The attempt to expand the sphere of Soviet influence was another matter. This was crossing a red line. Furthermore, he said, Afghanistan allowed Ronald Reagan to start reviving the American fighting spirit that had been depressed during the Vietnam war.
Lukyanov is one of the best overall analysts of Russia, because he's able to minimize the influence on his analysis of the constant propaganda that flows from both sides. He often diverges from the official Kremlin line but does it in a way that allows him to avoid being blacklisted. Despite a return to Cold War thinking in Moscow in recent years, he's able to state bluntly that the invasion of Czechoslovakia was a disaster for his country, one that contributed 11 years later to the invasion of Afghanistan, and then to the demise of the USSR. Yet Aug. 1968 couldn't have likely turned out any differently given the way of thinking of the Soviet leadership at the time, Lukyanov argues. The Soviet leaders, he said in the June interview, always apparently had an internal sense that the buffer zone (Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland) couldn't be considered entirely reliable. If Moscow had allowed a little reform, the Soviet leaders thought, the reform would never end, and the countries would eventually be lost to the West. The result, though, was a defeat no matter how you look at it, Lukyanov said. The invasion of Czechoslovakia definitively erased the image of the Soviet Union as something that served to inspire socialist and leftist radicals in the West. The victory tanks of 1945 turned into the invading tanks of 1968.
Unlike in Hungary in 1956, Lukyanov noted, there was no armed uprising in Prague. The Soviets sent an invading force when it wasn't necessary. According to Czech historian Vladimír Čermák, the KGB's chief officer in Prague thought that Moscow had fallen into a trap, either of its own hard-line intelligence forces or of foreign ones. The Warsaw Pact soldiers acted like real occupying forces and used real bullets, he said, but there was no opposition. Moscow had overreacted.
The question of whether the CIA, through Radio Free Europe and other means, helped bring about the invasion is obvious enough, but some educated Czechs we have spoken to argue that Moscow itself encouraged Dubček's reforms as a way to justify an invasion. Lukyanov never states this specifically, but he does say that Moscow never feared that it could go too far in suppressing dissent. The Soviet leadership, without exception, he said, could not imagine that the USSR would ever cease to exist. This was the guiding force in 1968, he said, and it continued until 1991. Moscow nevertheless issued a statement on Dec. 5, 1989, calling the invasion of Czechoslovakia of 1968 a mistake. "These unjustified actions had long-term negative consequences," it said.
Remembering the invasion of 1968 isn't just an exercise in reviewing history, wrote Lukyanov on Aug. 21 of this year. The world is on the move again, just as it was in 1968, and this time the roles are reversed. Russia survived traumatic upheaval at the end of the last century because of its own complacency and self-confidence, he said, and now the West is going through its own period of self-satisfaction, without realizing its own weakness.
As president on Aug. 21, 2008, Václav Klaus said that Czechs must overcome the trauma of 1938 and of 1968, when many of them lost hope of ever having a sovereign country.
Lukyanov spoke of the trauma experienced by Russians as a result of the changes at the end of the last century. Russians paid the price of their own social stagnation, he said. Now it is the West that risks enduring traumatic times.
The New York Times wrote this week that China now has the largest navy. It has 317 warships and submarines, to the U.S.'s 283, and China is adding new ones at a stunning speed. This probably comes as a shock to many readers. As the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion fades from our minds, it's good to realize that victory is an ephemeral concept in the span of history.