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Dubcek’s Failings? The 1968 Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia


Continuing the theme of protest and rebellion, this article considers ‘Operation Danube’, the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Here, Rebekah Young discusses the failure of Czechoslovakian leader Alexander Dubcek’s attempt to create ‘socialism with a human face’ and explores the complex decision-making process, mistakes and miscalculations that resulted in military intervention in August 1968.


Dubcek’s Failings? The 1968 Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia


By Rebekah Young.


During the night of August 20-21, 1968, the joint forces of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia. This was the biggest military operation in Europe since the Second World War as up to 200,000 troops from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary occupied Czechoslovakia in ‘Operation Danube’. Launched in response to the reform movement led by Czechoslovakia leader Alexander Dubcek (known as the ‘Prague Spring’), the Warsaw Pact invasion was preceded by several months of negotiation and preparation. As Jiri Valenta argues, the Soviet leadership decided to intervene in Czechoslovakia ‘only after a long period of hesitation and vacillation’.[1] During the course of 1968, the steady escalation of Dubcek’s reform programme first disquieted and then alarmed Moscow, finally persuading Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that Soviet interests were seriously compromised by the threat of ‘counter-revolution’ in Czechoslovakia. In particular, Dubcek’s failure to respond to numerous warnings and ultimatums issued between April and August 1968 seems to have played a vital role in influencing Brezhnev’s decision to sanction military intervention.


Alexander Dubcek and ‘Socialism with a Human Face’.


Alexander Dubcek became leader of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party on 5 January 1968. When he assumed the leadership, Dubcek faced the challenge of revitalising the public standing of the Communist Party; the previous leader Antonin Novotny had been widely criticised for his inability to redress the ‘political discontent of the people’ and the ‘declining activity and interest’ of communist party members. On 5 April 1968 Dubcek  published his Action Programme, a series of proposed reforms which aimed at improving economic conditions in Czechoslovakia and sanctioned a higher degree of liberalisation, promising greater freedom of speech, movement, association and greater political participation by non-communist organisations. The power of the police, military and judiciary were also to be curtailed.


Czechoslovakian leader Alexander Dubcek – his attempt to create ‘socialism with a human face’ sparked the 1968 Prague Spring.


Dubcek’s Action Programme was an experiment in reform from above. It was Dubcek’s intention that the Communist Party would retain its ‘leading role’ in Czechoslovakia, but he hoped that by encouraging a more open exchange of views and a higher level of political participation, he could narrow the gap between the Party and society, revitalising communism and enabling the party to gain greater legitimacy and public support, thus creating ‘socialism with a human face’.[2] The Action Programme was hardly a revolutionary document; it intended to strengthen state socialism and posed no fundamental challenge to the Soviet Union and its satellite states. While Dubcek aimed to redefine the role of the communist party, he did not seek to abandon it. In particular, the programme emphasised orthodoxy in foreign policy, stressing a continued commitment to ‘fighting the forces of imperialist reaction’ and stating that ‘the basic orientation of Czechoslovak foreign policy ….revolves around alliance and cooperation with the Soviet Union and the other socialist states’. Throughout 1968, Dubcek continued to emphasise that Czechoslovakian commitments to the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries would not change.[3]


However, Dubcek’s proposals had the potential for considerable movement away from the orthodox Soviet model, diluting the ‘leading role’ of the communist party in state and society. Jiri Valenta even refered to the Action Programme as the ‘Magna Carta of Dubcek’s new leadership’.[4] The Action Programme thus sparked Soviet concerns, as Moscow began to monitor developments in Czechoslovakia carefully.


The Prague Spring: April-August 1968


Developments in Czechoslovakia between April-August 1968 led to rising alarm in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in the East European bloc. On 4th May Dubcek visited Moscow, where certain aspects of his Action Programme were criticised and he was cautioned by Brezhnev to ensure that any reforms remained ‘within acceptable bounds’.


The abolition of censorship in Czechoslovakia, allowed a level of freedom of speech unheard of elsewhere in the communist bloc. This was a matter of great concern for the Soviets. Dubcek’s decision to encourage political debate opened the floodgates of free expression and inevitably led to criticism of the Communist Party’s monopoly of power and past brutality. This is perhaps best illustrated by Ludvik Vaculik’s ‘Two Thousand Words’, which was published in June 1968. The article supported Dubcek and the continued role of the communists in leading a ‘democratic revival’ in Czecholsovakia and rejected the use of ‘improper or illegal methods’ against the Party. However, Vaculik was extremely critical of the Party’s past record, criticising high levels of repression, stating that the  Party had gone from ‘a political party and ideological grouping into a power organisation’ led by ‘power-hungry egoists, reproachful cowards and people with bad consciences’. Vaculik believed the government had ‘forgotten how to govern’ and called for the resignation of those who had previously misused their power.[5]


Vaculik’s plea inspired widespread support in Czechoslovakia and sparked serious concern from the Soviets. The Two Thousand Words hinted at the potential for action from below that could destroy the leading role of the party and the Soviet leadership condemned the article as ‘an anti-socialist call to revolution’.[6] This was one of the catalysts for convening a Warsaw Pact meeting in July, which Navratil believes ‘marked the point of no return for Soviet policy on rolling back the Prague Spring’.[7]


The Soviets were also increasingly concerned about Dubcek’s apparent willingness to dilute the leading role of the communist party with moves towards political pluralism; proposals to increase the involvement of non-communist organisations within the political sphere and plans to vote on further political ‘restructuring’ at the 14th Czechoslovakian Party Congress at the end of August. Galia Golan believes that the increasingly politicised nature of Dubcek’s reforms was a crucial factor, arguing that, ‘it was the democratic nature and content of the Czechosovak experiment … which precipitated the invasion’.[8]


Perhaps most importantly, the Prague Spring posed a wider security issue, with fear of demands for reform triggering a ‘domino effect’ elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Other East European leaders began to press Brezhnev for a hard-line intervention in Czechoslovakia to minimise any damage to their own country. In particular, the Ukrainian, Polish and East German leaderships began complaining about the danger of ‘contamination’. In Ukraine, people began to openly voice their long standing discontent with Soviet domination and express solidarity with Dubcek and the Czechoslovakian people. Polish leader Gomulka was particularly angered by public criticism in Prague about Polish anti-Semitism, while East German leader Ulbricht strongly opposed any suggestion that the Czechoslovakian Communist Party might give up its monopoly of power.[9] Minutes from a secret meeting of the ‘Warsaw Five’ in Moscow on 8 May 1968 demonstrate that Gomulka and Ulbricht took the most hard line stance, repeatedly insisting that a ‘counterrevolution’ was underway in Czechoslovakia and emphasising the need for outside military intervention.[10] However, Brezhnev remained reluctant to send tanks into Czechoslovakia, hoping to coerce Dubek to keep his reforms within ‘acceptable limits’ instead.


Moscow’s Warnings: Mistakes and Miscalculations


When the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, Dubcek expressed complete shock at this ‘unexpected’ turn of events, declaring ‘On my honour as a communist, I declare that I did not have the slightest idea … that anyone proposed taking such measures against us’.[11] However, the available evidence indicates that Soviet pressure on Dubcek to reverse his reform programme intensified between April and August 1968 and that Brezhnev repeatedly warned Dubcek about the possibility of outside intervention if he did not act decisively to bring the Prague Spring back under control. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Prague Spring was Dubcek’s failure to heed Brezhnev’s warnings. Instead, he remained seemingly oblivious to the increasingly dangerous position he was in, despite the precedent set by the earlier Soviet invasion of Hungary to prevent escalating reform in 1956, with Hungarian leader Kadar knowingly warning Dubcek ‘Do you really not know the kind of people you are dealing with?’[12] (For more on the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary see the previous blog post HERE)


‘Fraternal Cooperation’ – Dubcek and Brezhnev embrace. However, relations between the two deteriorated as Brezhnev became increasingly frustrated by Dubcek’s unwillingness to bow to Soviet pressure and halt his reform programme.


A series of meetings held during the summer of 1968 illustrate a slow but steady course towards military intervention. On 14-15 July an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Czechoslovakia resulted in a letter claiming that ‘hostile forces’ in Czechoslovakia posed a serious threat and emphasising the ‘solidarity and general assistance of fraternal socialist countries to defend Czechoslovakia and uphold the socialist system’.[13] The letter was sent to Dubcek (who had been absent from the meeting) but he dismissed these criticisms. Between 29 July and 1 August a further series of meetings were held between the Czechoslovak and Soviet leaderships at Cierna nad Tisou, where Dubcek bowed to sustained pressure and promised a series of concessions including a halt to political reform and the re-imposition of a higher level of censorship. However, after the summit Dubcek ‘continued his course as if nothing had happened’, despite dispatches from the Czechoslovak Ambassadors in Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest reporting on a ‘steady military build-up’ under way in the Eastern bloc.[14] Cierna nad Tisou can be seen as a crucial tipping point: had Dubcek acted decisively to regain control over the reform process after the meeting, invasion may have been avoided. Tigrid believes this was a ‘tragic misunderstanding’ on Dubcek’s part, while a CIA Intelligence Memorandum dated 21st August 1968 observed that ‘Cierna proved only that the Czechs had not understood … that they should put their reform movement into reverse.[15]


On 3 August the Bratislava Declaration further emphasised Warsaw Pact commitment to ‘strengthening and developing fraternal cooperation among the socialist states’, and vigilance against any attempts to weaken the leading role of the communist party.[16] The stage was set for intervention. Records of two telephone conversations between Brezhnev and Dubcek on the 9 and 13 August mark the final point of no return for Moscow. An increasingly frustrated Brezhnev explained to Dubcek that the situation was now ‘very serious’; accusing him of failing to adhere to the agreements reached in Cierna and Bratislava; rebuking him for his lack of action and ‘deceit’ and stating that ‘independent measures’ would be employed to defend socialism. Dubcek merely requested more time, arguing that rapid changes to restore domestic order were impossible during such a complex process.[17]




On August 17th, the final decision to launch Operation Danube was made. This came after much deliberation between Brezhnev and the other Warsaw Pact members. The invasion was the result of a fragile balance of conflicting ideas. By August 1968 Dubcek’s failure to slow the pace of reform in Czechoslovakia convinced Brezhnev that some form of intervention was required.[18]While Brezhnev was initially reluctant to send troops in to Czechoslovakia Dubcek’s seeming refusal to limit his reform programme despite repeated warnings and ultimatums, coupled with pressure from other East European leaders left little choice but to take decisive action. Dubcek had clearly underestimated the warnings of the Warsaw five, who believed that he had lost control over the Prague Spring. He failed to convince them that he had the power and initiative to prevent a counter-revolution and was ultimately considered too ‘unreliable’ to maintain socialism in Czechoslovakia.


Warsaw Pact troops entering Prague, 21 August 1968.


VIDEO:  Soldiers and Eyewitnesses remember the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia:


About the Author:


Rebekah Young has recently completed her BA (Hons) in History at Swansea University. During her final year of study Rebekah specialised in East European History and researched and wrote her History Dissertation about gender differences in the Gulag camps. Rebekah is planning to study for an MA in History at Swansea University in 2013.


[1] Jiri Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia 1968: Anatomy of a Decision (John Hopkins University Press, 1979).

[2] Jeremi Suri, “The Promise and Failure of ‘Developed Socialism’”, Contemporary European History 15, 2 (2006), 146; Grzegorz Ekiert, The State Against Society (Princeton University Press, 1996), 122

[3] Tigrid, Why Dubcek Fell (London: Macdonald, 1971), 56; Ben Fowkes, The Rise and Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993), 125

[4] Jiri Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia 1968: Anatomy of a Decision (John Hopkins University Press, 1979).

[5] Ludvik Vaculik, Two Thousand Words to Workers, Farmers, Scientists, Artists and Everyone (27 June 1968) – available online @

[6] Grzegorz Ekiert, The State Against Society (Princeton University Press: 1996), 142-143.

[7] Jaromir Navratil, The Prague Spring 1968,: A National Security Documents Archive Reader (Central European University Press, 1998), 177

[8] Galia Golan, Reform Rule in Czechoslovakia (Cambridge, 1973), 238

[9]University of New Orleans Center Austria International Symposium on the Occasion of the Ten-Year Anniversary of Center Austria, Summar of Proceedings from ‘Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia 1968’, April 3-4 2008, available online via (15-03-12), 2.

[10] Jaromir Navratil, The Prague Spring 1968,: A National Security Documents Archive Reader (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1998), 132.

[11] Dubcek quoted in Ben Fowkes, The Rise and Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, (Macmillan, 1995), 133

[12] Fowkes, B, Eastern Europe 1945-1969: From Stalinism to Stagnation (Harlow: Longman, 2000), 79.

[13] The Warsaw Letter – approved by the USSR, Bulgaria, the GDR, Hungary and Poland and sent to the Czechoslovak authorities (14-15 July 1968) available online @

[14] Jaromir Navratil, The Prague Spring 1968,: A National Security Documents Archive Reader (Budapest: Central  European University Press, 1998), 298.

[15]Tigrid, Why Dubcek Fell (Macdonald, 1971), 93; CIA Intelligence Memorandum ‘Soviet Decision to Intervene’, 2 August 1968, available online via The OSA Digital Archive of 1968: ;

[16] The Bratislava Declaration – signed by the USSR, Hungary, Poland, the GDR, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia (3 August 1968) – available online @

[17] Transcripts of Telephone Conversations between Brezhnev and Dubcek, 9 and 13 August 1968, available @ and

[18] Ben Fowkes, The Rise and Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, (Macmillan, 1995), 128-129.


June 27, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia 2012 – History Repeating?

As you will probably have guessed, I’ve been following the recent Russian presidential election with great interest. In many ways the election itself was unremarkable: the outcome was a fait accompli before the first ballots had even been cast and the result simply confirmed what everybody expected – Vladimir Putin’s triumphant return to the Russian Presidency with a respectable 63% of the vote, despite widespread evidence of electoral fraud (in addition to the numerous video clips showcasing blatant examples of ballot stuffing and carousel voting available online, both GOLOS and the OSCE have issued formal statements highlighting ‘serious problems’ with the election).


In another sense however, March 4th marked something of a watershed. Russians were genuinely divided. Opposition to Putin’s proposed return to power crystallised, manifest in a series of demonstrations and protest marches held in the run up to polling day. Then more Russians took to the streets in response, not to condemn Putin but to cheer him. There has been much talk about the 2012 election sparking the ‘re-politicisation’ of the Russian citizenry. Putin’s re-election has dominated international media coverage too, provoking a deluge of commentary and providing a platform for airing a broad spectrum of views about contemporary Russia. Last weekend, as Russians went to the polls, my Twitter feed was alive with analysis, opinion and a wealth of wonderful visual and oral snippets about election day, providing some fascinating insights into events as they unfolded.


Something that particularly struck me during the recent election coverage was the widespread use of historical analogies when discussing more contemporary political developments. These have taken a number of different forms, including:


Vladimir Putin – Tsar or Comrade?: I’ve seen numerous references alluding to Putin as a ‘modern day Tsar’, with parallels drawn with c17th-c18th Tsar Peter the Great in particular. This image was seemingly endorsed by protest leader Alexander Navalny, who referred to Putin as the ‘Emperor of Russia’ in a derogatory speech made after his re-election was formally confirmed. However, Putin has also been critically compared to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, with 4th March 2012 referred to as Putin’s ‘Brezhnev moment’ , with widespread suggestions that the prospect of another 6 years (at least!) of ‘Putinism’, coming at a time of economic decline, will lead to the same kind of stagnation and frustration in Russia that characterised the Brezhnev era.


Putin's face superimposed onto Brezhnev's portrait - this popular image went viral during the Russian election earlier this month.


Electoral ‘Adjustment’: Focus on the lack of democracy and transparency surrounding the March 4th election triggered more comparisons with the Soviet era. Ok, so there are some obvious differences here: The 2012 Election provided at least a nominal choice of candidates, compared to the single candidate ‘elections’ that dominated the bulk of the communist period, although there were suggestions that any serious contenders had been prevented from standing on various ‘technicalities’. Putin’s 63% majority is also less risible than the 98% near universal popular endorsement that the communist party used to periodically claim –  electoral ‘adjustments’ notwithstanding, the prevailing consensus is that today, the Russian electorate still regard Putin as the most popular and viable option to lead their country at the present time. The OSCE post-election monitoring report claimed that, based on information from their exit polls, Putin would have squeaked by on just over 50% of the vote without any electoral manipulation, securing him a slim majority. This suggests that the various forms of electoral fraud were used as a propaganda tool to skew the vote more firmly in his favour by boosting his majority, rather than artificially creating his support base. In some areas though, Putin did claim victory with a curiously overwhelming majority (I’m thinking particularly here of Chechnya, where local officials claimed Putin won with 99.8 vote on a 99.5 turnout, just days after evidence of a Chechen plot to assassinate Putin had been revealed, with some Chechen precincts boasting voter turnout of 107% !).


Added to this, we have some of the tactics widely reported by the press during the election –  particularly the strategic organisation of crowds of pro-Putin demonstrators and the visible presence of large security detachments outside central polling stations (with reports that large numbers of OMON troops were deployed in central Moscow on election day) – both reminiscent of Soviet-era tactics to ‘remind’ citizens of their civic responsibility and to influence (intimidate) them into ‘willingly’ voting for their approved candidate.


Protest and (Potential?) Revolution:  Coverage of the growing anti-Putin demonstrations in the weeks leading up to polling day (which have also continued post-election) have also spawned comparisons with other key turning points in Russian history – I’ve seen parallels drawn between the current popular protests and the revolutionary years of 1905, 1917 and 1991 in recent weeks, with some commentators questioning whether 2012 might even herald ‘another Russian Revolution’. I was also interested to hear about Putin’s recent claims that ‘Western influence’ lay behind the demonstrations  – the return of another favoured Communist-era tactic, that of blaming the guiding hand of foreign forces for inciting domestic unrest! Traditionally, in the post-Stalin era, communist leaders in the USSR and Eastern Europe used a combination of coercion, compromise and concessions to try to minimise overt expressions of opposition to their rule (something that was particularly prevalent during the Brezhnevian era ‘Little Deal’) and while it is still early days, Putin appears to be approaching his third term in office by adopting a similar approach – with the recent announcement that the case of imprisoned oligarch and outspoken Putin critic Mikhail Khororkovsky is to be reviewed after 7 years,  balanced with a crackdown which resulted in the arrest of many protest leaders (including Alexander Navalny) in the aftermath of March 4th.


I  asked a ‘troika’ of seasoned Russia-watchers – Mark Galeotti, Luke Harding and Edward Lucas – to share some thoughts about these historical analogies and to make some predictions about what the future could hold for Russia during Putin’s return to the Russian presidency. Their responses provide a good indication of the broad range of opinions that exist. Their overall consensus seems to be that when it comes to Putin, some historical analogies may carry more weight than others, but that we should always beware of drawing overly simplistic comparisons between Russia past and present.  So, over to them:


I have seen a lot of recent references describing Putin as a ‘modern day Tsar’. Is this a fair description? On balance, would you say Putin was more of a Peter the Great, an Ivan the Terrible, or another Tsar altogether?


Mark Galeotti: As always with these kind of comparisons, none fit perfectly. Ivan the Terrible was an effective institution-builder in the first period of his reign, an increasingly destructive paranoiac in the second, which may prove to be a decent metaphor for Putin, but we’ll have to wait and see. In many ways, I’d also throw in a comparison with Tsar Nicholas I (who reigned 1825-1855), an authoritarian with a military background, who came to see the intellectual case for reform, but who never was able ultimately to overcome his visceral mistrust of it and the chaos change tends to bring.

Luke Harding: I’m not sure how helpful it is to compare Putin to either Peter or Ivan. But I do know that staff in his administration quite often use the phrase “Tsar Khochet” [The Tsar Wants….]

Edward Lucas: Personally, I don’t like any of these historical analogies. Russia now is quite different from Imperial Russia. Putin is a Red-Brown-White amalgam:  his approach is friendly to orthodox while keeping Lenin in his mausoleum and using fascist rhetoric. To view him as a ‘Tsar’ is too simplistic.


Critical comparisons have also been drawn between Putin and long-serving Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982). Do you agree?


MG: I’m not so much compelled by comparisons with Brezhnev as a person so much as the era. Brezhnev was the beneficiary of extremely favourable circumstances, both political and economic, with buoyant oil and gas export prices and a rebound from Khrushchev and his ‘madcap schemes.’ This allowed for a process of buying off every interest group, from the masses (with ‘sausage communism’) to the military and the increasingly corrupt elite. However, then the money began getting tight and everybody’s expectations had grown and that’s when things became troublesome. Brezhnev by that stage lacked the temperament or power to force harsh decisions on the government and to a large extent cuts hit the masses. Putin has likewise been the beneficiary of great good fortune and social and institutional expectations have grown, but on the other hand, Putin is no Brezhnev and he has the ability — though perhaps not the will — to adapt to meet changing economic needs.

LH: I’ve used the Brezhnev analogy before most recently in my Guardian article following Putin’s election victory, which you can read HERE. The comparison isn’t absolute, of course. But the similarities are obvious: a personalist regime, a leader who refuses to step down, the absence of any kind of succession mechanism. No-one can quite see how Putin will end – other than in the same way Brezhnev did. Plus of course, there are broader historical parallels: stagnation, high oil prices, emigration, an Olympics and a regime that – just about – has a degree of international respectability.

EL: Again, in my opinion this comparison is not really appropriate except as an insult. Modern Russia is far more open and dynamic than during the Brezhnev era.


To what extent have we seen a continuation of communist-era election tactics to influence the 2012 vote in Putin’s favour?


MG: Well, I would for a start challenge the suggestions in some media reports about a strong military presence at polling stations. None of the ones I visited had more than a bored cop or two…

There was a degree of fraud, but that was certainly not communist-style. Back then, if they wanted to stack the votes, they just counted them appropriately. Phenomena such as carousel voting is very definitely a post-Soviet development. Where there is a degree of continuity though, is in the dominance of the public narrative, largely through control of the TV and through ‘administrative resource’ – but on the whole I think the idea of linking this to the Soviet era is a mistake. Election fraud is election fraud.

LH: There are plenty of similarities here, but the most important factor has been State controlled TV – a glossily updated form of Soviet telly – which has broadcast wall-to-wall pro-Putin propaganda…

EL: I disagree. In my opinion, this is another wrong comparison. Election-rigging in its modern form started under Yeltsin (eg during the 1994 constutional referendum, the 1996 presidential vote). Communist elections were single-candidate so there was no need to rig them.


Historically, the Russian/Soviet authorities tried to suppress dissent, protest and rebellion through a mixture of coercion and concessions. It’s only been a week since Putin’s election victory but already, we have seen evidence of both.  How do you think Putin will handle continued opposition to his rule?


MG: We will see more of the same. I have discussed this further on my blog HERE.

LH: The conventional wisdom is that Putin has two choices. One to announce vague liberal seeming reforms, or pseudo-reforms in order to assuage the demonstrators and those more loosely fed up with his rule. The other is to employ the lugubrious KGB methods we’ve seen in the past: arrests (like last Monday), black PR against opposition leaders, administrative measures. Or both. I suspect both.

EL: A Mixture. Both options are limited. Opening up threatens to destroy the system, but it is too weak for mass repression.


The Russian protest movement has been attracting a lot of attention too – again, numerous historical parallels have been drawn, often between 2012 and 1917, although many have argued that 1905 is a better comparison and some have mentioned 1991. Do you think 2012 will bring another Russian Revolution?


MG: I haven’t seen any 1917 parallels, and I think they are pretty dumb. Where’s the revolutionary party? More to the point, where is the evidence of a weakening of central, existing power? 2012 will see no revolution.

The parallel with 1905 works better though – Again I’ve commented on this in more detail HERE.

LH: Yes – it’s 1905 not 1917. 2012 won’t bring another Russian Revolution. At this point I’m more pessimistic than optimistic, despite the encouraging middle-class-led uprising against Putin’s rule. The problem is this: the Russian governing class – worth billions – will fight very hard to preserve the current power dynamic and to hang on to their assets. The opposition are no match for the Kremlin. Putin and his ruling team have a kind of gangster energy about them.

EL: I’d say the current protest movement is more reminiscent of the late Gorbachev era, but much less naïve. Yes, it is good that the middle classes are involved in politics again, it’s good to have debate, satire etc. But it is a long way from reaching ‘critical mass’.


Finally, what do you think the future will hold for Russia, during Putin’s third term as President?


MG: This term, Putin’s last in power in my opinion, will see the slow, painful, two-steps-forward-one-step-back emergence of a genuine political alternatives — and maybe alternatives — to Putin and ‘Putinism’, but he and it will not go easily or quietly…

LH: Stagnation, frustration, emigration. A growing consciousness among Russia’s thinking population that the country is going nowhere under its current leadership…

EL: Change will be messy and remain inside the elite/system, at least at first. My bet is that Putin will not be leader after 2 years and one month. For more on this, see my recent interview HERE.


Mark Galeotti is Clinical Professor of Global Affairs and Academic Chair at New York University. His previous publications include The Politics of Security in Modern Russia; he writes a regular blog about Russian crime and security at In Moscow’s Shadows and he was present in Moscow during the recent presidential election. You can follow him on Twitter @MarkGaleotti

Luke Harding worked as the Moscow correspondent  for the Guardian between 2007 and 2011 and is the author of Mafia State: How one reporter became an enemy of the brutal new Russia. You can follow him on Twitter @lukeharding1968

Edward Lucas is International Editor of The Economist and author of The New Cold War and Deception: Spies, Lies, and How Russia Dupes The West. You can follow him on Twitter @edwardlucas


Many thanks to Mark Galeotti, Luke Harding and Edward Lucas for their comments!



March 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments