Ukraine 2022: Flashback to Crimea 1993? Prague spring 1968?

On August 21, 1968, in Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czechoslovakia, when Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces invaded, ending the progressive era known as the Prague Spring. Photograph by Vladimir Lammer/Courtesy of the Czech Center in New York

Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops into breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine as euphemistic ‘peacekeepers’, with between 150,000 and 190,000 Russian troops spread along the Russian-Ukrainian borders and Belarusian-Ukrainian. The United States and its European allies have announced significant economic sanctions against Russian financial entities in an effort to prevent further invasion. The world is waiting to see if Russia will launch the first major military attack in Europe in decades.

In 1993, however, the news cycle was dominated by an entirely different concern: how best to divide the former Soviet Union, as many of its socialist republics sought to become independent countries and the Cold War dissolved under the eyes of the world? Since Ukraine is an independent country, should the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, go to Ukraine or Russia? What to do with the huge arsenal of nuclear missiles remaining on Ukrainian soil, whose presence has made this country the third nuclear state in the world? And what would relations between Russia and Ukraine look like – would they be two separate but equal democracies, or something else?

the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists covered the breakup of the Soviet Union in detail as it happened. Three articles seemingly about this coverage—and a fourth, suddenly relevant article about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to undo the Prague Spring—are featured below, as a reminder that East-West relations have ranged from bad to better. to relatively good over time. And could vary again.

The view of Kyiv In this 1993 Newsletter article, the magazine’s chief correspondent in Kyiv (now Kyiv) Literaturnaya Gazeta, Sergei Kiselyov, wrote: “Russia’s plan to capture the ships and the naval base in Sevastopol resembled that of a stalker who studied the precise route of his victim and waited patiently for him in an alley dark.” In the same article, Kiselyov also said that he found his fellow Ukrainians pessimistic about the future, because Russia would always have the upper hand: not only did Russia have a much bigger economy and a much bigger army, but it also had the ability to cut off Ukraine’s oil and gas supply.

The view of Moscow Russian author Sergei Leskov wrote in the Newsletter of the enormous symbolic power of Crimea (and by extension, Ukraine) to fellow Russians. Crimea was the location where Russian forces suffered an epic siege by combined British, French and Allied forces in the mid-19and century during the Crimean War; where Tolstoy served in the front line; where Chekhov wrote many of his stories; and where the Tsar’s ministers and later Communist apparatchiks frolicked. Leskov quoted a local professor: “As things stand, we have ceded much of what is ours to our friends and neighbors, who sell to us at the first opportunity. It’s time to reclaim what we’ve scattered. The bigger the country, the better… Personally, I still have one feeling, that of patriotism.

No way to lead an army The eastern and western regions of Ukraine are markedly different. The east-west divide could be detected as the country became independent even in the hazing of new conscripts for the Ukrainian army:[In] eastern Ukraine, recruits from western Ukraine are beaten for being banderovtsy (a pejorative term for a Ukrainian), and in the west recruits from the east are beaten for being moskali (a pejorative term for a Russian),” wrote Oleg Strekal, editor for the German magazine’s Ukraine desk. The Spiegel.

Anxiety in Bonn: Germans fear after Czechoslovakia Shortly after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Steven Muller of Cornell University opined that “[t]The Russian intervention was not intended as an aggressive move against the West but rather as a defensive measure against a protectorate that seemed to be spinning out of control” – which could be an interpretation of what is happening these days concerns Russia and Ukraine. . In his 1969 article, Muller goes on to say that the occupation of Czechoslovakia by hundreds of thousands of Soviet and Warsaw Pact allied troops (accompanied by tanks) “was a great shock to everyone in the West. This sparked a great outcry of anger, revulsion and disappointment, but it turned almost immediately into frustrated murmurs of helpless resignation… The Soviet Union made it clear that it would use naked force to prevent liberalization in Eastern Europe.

Berta D. Wells