Russia Update: Moscow Attempts to Revise History of Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

June 2, 2015
Invasion of Prague by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. Photo by Libor Hajsky/CTK/AP

Russia has rewritten the true history of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, claiming falsely that it was triggered by a “NATO coup attempt.”

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.


Russia This Week:

Is ‘Novorossiya’ Really Dead?
From Medal of Valor to Ubiquitous Propaganda Symbol: the History of the St. George Ribbon
What Happened to the Slow-Moving Coup?
Can We Be Satisfied with the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
All the Strange Things Going On in Moscow

Special features:

With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin
Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo

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Opposition Journalist Kara-Murza, Jr. Emerges from Coma

European Parliament Fires Back At Russia Over Blacklist, Retaliates By Suspending Cooperation

The European Parliament is furious over a Russian blacklist of 89 European officials and parliamentarians who are now blocked from entering Russia, including: the general secretary of the EU Council, Uwe Corsepius; the former British deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg; the former Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg; the former minister for EU enlargement , Stefan Fule; German MEP Rebecca Harms; and the director-general of MI5, Andrew Parker.

The list was published on Saturday, and as we have reported, it has caused significant diplomatic fallout. First, Russia is angry that the list was ever made public:

Now the president of European Parliament has fired back officially by publishing this statement:

Following the publication of the blacklist of European politicians and officials, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, today informed the Russian Ambassador to the EU that insofar as the Russian authorities have failed to ensure transparency in their decisions, in line with international law and legal obligations, and allow the targeted individuals the right of defence and of appeal, he considers that it is now justified to take appropriate measures in response. Consequently, pending the lifting of the blacklist, Parliament is:

– restricting free access to Parliament to the Ambassador and one other named diplomat;

– assessing requests for access by Members of the Duma and the Federation Council on a case-by-case basis;

– suspending Parliament’s engagement with the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.

AFP provides more context:

The statement by Schulz comes after the Greens group in the European Parliament on Sunday called for a debate on the travel ban describing it as a “heavy blow for EU-Russia relations, even if its confirmation is not a surprise”.

An EU representative in Moscow received a copy of the list, which has not been published, from the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday.

Over the weekend, the EU foreign service called the travel ban “totally arbitrary and unjustified” with leaders across Europe slamming the decision.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile dismissed the “absurdity” of EU complaints insisting that Russia’s response merely followed Western sanctions against the Kremlin.

James Miller

Russia’s Explosion in Frequency & Scope of Military Drills Forcing Historic Reactions Across Europe
Yesterday we reported on Russian snap drills, a response to pre-announced NATO drills in the Baltics and Poland. The main theme — Russia’s reactionary and often aggressive military activity is not only dangerous, it is also unprecedented in recent history.

Today the Russian Ministry of Defence announced that Russia’s elite airborne units, the VDV, will conduct more than 1,000 drills this summer, a massive increase over last year which itself saw a significant increase over recent years. Newsweek reports that the drills will take place in many regions of Russia, including in the Arctic:

Russia’s military command has said the airborne troops will be ordered to complete over 1,000 exercises to test their battle readiness in the next four months, which is a 20% increase in activities compared to the same period last year.

Over 250 of these exercises will involve field work reportedly related to “peacekeeping,” while practical exercises will begin as soon as this week for soldiers on contract. Meanwhile conscripts will begin the training period with lessons in military history.

Other exercises will include landing practice, as well as drills in collaboration with other units from the Russian military and the militaries of allied states who are members of Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organisation.

Yevgeny Meshkov, a spokesman for the VDV told Russian news agency Interfax that the exercises will take part across the territory of Russia, spanning almost 20 regions.

Russian paratroopers to conduct over 1,000 exercises this summer

Russia's Airborne Troops (VDV) are set to conduct over 1,000 combat readiness exercises in the summer period across the territory of Russia, the country's Ministry of Defence announced today. Over the last year Russia has ramped up military drills in response to the crisis in neighbouring Ukraine, where Russian servicemen have led a covert separatist push against Ukraine's pro-European government forces.

View full page >

Jun 03, 2015 00:40 (GMT)

Russia’s actions are sparking historic reactions from Europe. Though NATO is 66 years old and the Cold War is supposedly over, Russia’s recent activity has caused non-NATO countries like Finland and Sweden to discuss the possibility of joining the alliance as a hedge against Russian aggression.

This tweet was sent today by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves:

Newsweek reports:

Finland’s huge land border with Russia has seen increased violations of its airspace in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, as Russia has expanded what it calls unannounced ‘patrol flights’ across Europe. As many as five were recorded last year, compared to none in 2010.

Russia is also building a military base at Alakurtti in its Murmansk region, 50km from the Finnish border and it has frequently conducted exercises in the waters it shares with Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

The process to update the features of Finland’s jets has been ongoing since 2003 but the drills over the coming two weeks will mark the first time Finland has dropped live bombs on ground targets since the Second World War.

Several NATO and non-NATO countries have been alarmed by aggressive Russian air patrols near international borders, and by the spotting of ‘unidentified submerged objects’ — presumably Russian submarines — which have gone even further by crossing into other nations’ territorial waters. Finland, Switzerland, and Sweden recently conducted joint drills, named Arctic Challenge, along with NATO countries, marking another historic shift in attitudes as these countries have remained non-aligned throughout the Cold War but are now alarmed by the actions of Putin’s Russia.

Scared By Russia, Finland, Sweden And NATO Members Prepare For Potential Military Crisis, Hold Air Force Drill

Finland is joining military exercises with other Scandinavian countries, as well as several members of NATO, in late May, Finnish media report. The maneuvers called Arctic Challenge will span 12 days, starting May 25, and include nine countries and close to 100 planes.

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Jun 03, 2015 01:01 (GMT)

James Miller
Kremlin Media and Sympathizers Claim FIFA President Blatter’s Resignation a Distraction from America’s NSA Controversy

Sepp Blatter, the head of the FIFA who had just been re-elected to his position following a corruption controversy and US arrests of 14 sports officials, just resigned.

As reported, the resignation is likely connected to the New York Times report today about a $10 million bribe paid to FIFA’s general secretary:

Jérôme Valcke, the soccer organization’s secretary general, is the
unidentified “high-ranking FIFA official” who prosecutors say
transferred $10 million in 2008 from FIFA to accounts controlled by
another soccer official, Jack Warner, the officials said. The payment is
a key piece of last week’s indictment accusing Mr. Warner of taking a
bribe in exchange for helping South Africa secure the right to host the
2010 World Cup

FIFA confirmed the transfer of the funds, but said it went to help the African diaspora in the Caribbean countries.”

The news has predictably thrown the Russian propagandists and Kremlin sympathizers into a tailspin, as they had just reported that now Russia’s hosting of the FIFA World Championship in 2018 was secure with a “friend of Russia” in place who had already ensured Russia’s bid was successful.

When the scandal first erupted, the immediate concern for Russians was whether their World Cup was in jeopardy.

It’s also an occasion for “whataboutism” and turning the tables:

As they have since the story broke, some Russian and Ukrainian bloggers have used the occasion of the FIFA scandal to make satirical comments on the larger issues of corruption and the war in Ukraine.

Translation: they say Blatter’s next press conference will be in Rostov-on-Don.

Rostov is the Russian city next to the Ukrainian border which has been a staging area for Russian military involvement in the war in Ukraine.

Dmitry Kosyrev, a columnist for the state wire service RIA Novosti wrote a piece with the headline “Soccer Hysterics Instead of a Spy Scandal,” commenting:

“It’s a classic scheme of hysterical behavior (by either sex) if you land in a hopeless situation, you have to create a situation that is even more hopeless. A situation that other people will deal with instead of the hysteric himself or herself, at by contrast with which the previous story will seem a trifle. This is what we observe in the unexpected outburst of the “soccer” scandal. He simply can’t distract the attention of the broad public from an entirely different scandal — the American surveillance of about 400,000 “facilities” in Europe, and cooperation with the German intelligence agency BND.”

RIA Novosti published a readers’ poll in which it asks what is at the root of the FIFA scandal:


1) Stepped up fight against corruption in sports;
2) Effort to distract attention of the world public from other issues;
3) Attempt not to allow the re-election of Blatter to the post of FIFA president.

As of this writing, 72.5% chose no. 3 — likely because they associated Blatter’s presidency with Russia’s hosting of the 2018 championship.

RIA Novosti published a cartoon by Vitaly Podvitsky showing a woman under surveillance from NSA spy equipment coming through her window, and then being knocked out by a soccer ball:


Even before Blatter’s resignation, the government-run website [News] featured commentator Semyon Chedvik darkly hinting that the FIFA scandal was cooked up by the FBI to “normalize the situation for the work of American sponsors” of FIFA.

Said Chedvik (translation by The Interpreter):

“I sense that the FBI is acting in the interests of American global corporations, possibly against its Asian competitors.”

The Kremlin parody account is reprising a clip of Blatter once falling down as he shook hands:

Translation: Congratulations to Putin — the kiss of death. Poor Blatter. Now it’s prison or active cooperation with the investigation.

Translation: The Americans have never won soccer — until today. also asked, with
Nikolai Tolstykh of the Russian Soccer Federation removed, and with the
resignation of Blatter, who will attend the play-offs for the 2018
World Championship which are to take place on July 25, 2015 in St.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Condition of Opposition Journalist Kara-Murza Improved, Says His Wife

The condition of opposition journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr., who was rushed to the hospital May 26 with suspected poisoning, has improved, his wife said in an update for Open Russia.

Евгения Кара-Мурза: "Состояние моего мужа явно улучшилось"

В ночь на 2 июня жена Владимира Кара-Мурзы Евгения рассказала Открытой России об улучшении состояния его здоровья

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Jun 02, 2015 20:27 (GMT)

Evgeniya Kara-Murza says her husband’s conditions has “clearly improved” and that “a positive dynamic is observed.”

She said the level of medications he has been given to keep him in a medically-induced coma while on life-support has been reduced.

It is still not known what substance he might have ingested that caused this reaction. A standard toxicology report produced no signs of any narcotics or alcohol. The family has sent some medical samples abroad for additional testing.

The family also decided on doctor’s advice not to attempt to move Kara-Murza, Jr. now because his condition was too serious and an Israeli doctor brought in for consultation said the necessary dialysis and other machines were available at Pirogova City Hospital No. 1 where he was brought after the initial incorrect diagnoses of cardiac problems.

Kara-Murza, Jr. is the federal coordinator for Open Russia, the movement founded by exiled businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for
Modern Russia which is funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail
Khodorkovsky. Kara-Murza.Jr. is a former staff member of IMR.)

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia Attempts to Revise History of Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia; Czech, Slovak Governments Protest

Russia has angered the Czech and Slovak governments and provided another vivid example of its disinformation to the world by releasing a film claiming the 1968 Soviet-led invasion was in reaction to a “NATO coup attempt.”

Russian TV doc on 1968 invasion angers Czechs and Slovaks – BBC News

The Czech and Slovak governments have accused Russia of rewriting history after Russian state TV broadcast a documentary about the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. The programme, aired on 23 May, argued the invasion was aimed at preventing a military coup backed by the West.

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Jun 02, 2015 17:09 (GMT)

The BBC reports that the Czech government has summoned the Russian ambassador and Slovakia has protested to the Russian government.

The Soviet-led invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia was always described as “protection of the communist revolution” by Soviet propagandists who even then didn’t claim NATO was able to act in an area in the Soviet sphere of influence.

The invasion was in response to what was known as the “Prague Spring” led by reformist communist Alexander Dubcek who relaxed restrictions on speech, assembly and travel and also divided the country into a federation of three republics, prefiguring the eventual peaceful separation of Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993.

It was this breaking from Moscow within the Communist camp that triggered the invasion, not any action by NATO, which, as with the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, did not intervene, leaving Eastern Europe to remain under Soviet rule for decades.

Russian film on 1968 Prague Spring invasion infuriates Czech and Slovak governments

Prague: A Russian film about the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia has incensed the Czech and Slovak governments, who said it distorted history by justifying the armed crackdown on the democratic "Prague Spring" movement.

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Jun 02, 2015 17:22 (GMT)

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote:

The film “grossly distorts” the facts, Czech Foreign Minister
Lubomir Zaoralek said in a statement after summoning the Russian
ambassador on Monday.

The invasion was a “long-lasting tragedy for
Czechoslovakia and its people,” the Slovak ministry said on its
website. The documentary, which aired on state Rossiya 1 television on
May 23, “is trying to rewrite history and falsify historical truths
about this dark chapter of our history”.

As wrote with the headline “Czech Revises Russian Television,” previously the Russian government had admitted its “moral responsibility” for the invasion.

In August 1968, seven Soviet citizens went out on to Red Square to protest the invasion, carrying the sign “For Your Freedom and Ours,” a variation of the Polish slogan “For our freedom and yours.” They were arrested and sent into internal exile. In 2008, on the 40th anniversary, the Czech Embassy in Moscow organized a commemoration and invited the surviving demonstrators.

As the report notes, in the Russian film, which features Yury Sinelshchikov, then a 20-year-old soldier in the Soviet Army and now a member of the Communist Party of Russian Federation (CPRF), the narrator says (translation by The Interpreter):

The version about how the supposedly peaceful Prague uprising with the romantic title of the ‘Prague Spring’ which propagandists used as a cover is destroyed by living participants of those events.

Sergei Utkin, deputy head of strategic forecasts for the Center for Situations Analysis of the Russian Academy of Science commented for

“This is a return regarding an entire range of historical events to the protectors of interpretations used during the pre-perestroika era. Of course, this is perceived painfully not only in Western countries which it concerns but part of Russian society which values the conquests of perestroika. In my view, this is a greater problem not for Czechs or Slovaks but for us ourselves.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick