83. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

5178. Subject: Invasion of Czechoslovakia.

I would like in this telegram to provide some preliminary thoughts on meaning of invasion as seen from here, subject to views of Ambassador Thompson.
It must first be said that invasion took all friendly diplomats here by surprise. Some had expected it in earlier stage of crisis. None with whom we have talked thought it particularly likely following Bratislava Declaration, which seemed offer a face-saving device for all concerned.
There is consequently considerable speculation that Soviet leadership itself shifted from a minority to a majority favoring invasion in interval following Bratislava meeting. Story was current this evening among diplomats that as late as August 19 Kosygin and Podgorny (sic), summoned hastily from vacation, were confronted with new majority decision in Politburo for intervention. This story is not confirmed, and all reports of Politburo views and actions must be considered suspect in absence firm intelligence. Their relevance to what has happened will no doubt be clarified only in time, if then.
Alternative hypothesis is that decision to intervene was taken at or immediately following Bratislava meeting. According this hypothesis, Bratislava Declaration was from outset purely tactical compromise papering over differences so fundamental that Soviets recognized they were unbridgeable under Dubcek leadership. Invasion was consequently timed to achieve maximum psychological and tactical surprise (which was in fact achieved).
What seems readily estimable, on basis our conversations this evening, is that many countries under emotional impact of events find Soviet action so repugnant that their bilateral relations are likely to suffer at all levels; that November international conference of Communist Parties faces virtually insuperable odds; that underdeveloped third world countries will have second thoughts as to Soviet connections; and that East-West détente has suffered significant setback.
What is less clear is internal impact of this event. Knowledge that regime has resorted to military force against ally accused of ideological deviation cannot but add [garble] to already strident demands on Soviet population for orthodoxy and conformity. We anticipate that in near term Soviet population will conform. Over longer term, consequences for leadership are unpredictable. Some heads could fall unless there was greater support for intervention than most diplomats believe possible.
Our own posture poses difficult problems given urgency and importance of bilateral and multilateral issues needing resolution. For the short term, however, it seems to us indispensable that we condemn invasion in strongest terms and avoid any action which could be construed as mitigating that condemnation. That applies not only to Soviet Union but to its four collaborators.
Department pass as desired.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–1 COMBLOC–CZECH. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to USUN.