This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Soviet-led invasions of Budapest and Prague in the 1950s and ’60s a mistake, echoing past comments of regret about two of the defining events of the Cold War.
Putin’s comments, made on September 12, came during a question-and-answer session at an economic forum in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok.
The forum’s moderator asked Putin his opinion in response to unspecified Hungarian and Czech officials saying that “the U.S.S.R. behaved as a colonizer when it sent its tanks to Prague and Budapest.”
“We have long recognized that this element of Soviet policy was a mistake and led only to tensions in relations,” Putin said.
The two events were pivotal moments in the Cold War, highlighting the Soviet Union’s willingness to use force to prevent satellite countries from liberalizing or otherwise deviating from Moscow’s firm grip.
The 1956 Hungarian Uprising, launched amid protests over the Hungarian government’s subordination to Moscow, was crushed after 12 days by Soviet tanks and troops. Many people were killed in Budapest.
The 1968 Prague Spring, a period of liberalization, ended when Warsaw Pact forces invaded what was then the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
Putin has made similar contrite remarks about the Prague and Budapest events in the past, most notably during trips in 2006, when he said Russia bore moral responsibility for the crackdowns, though no legal responsibility, he argued.
In his comments in Vladivostok, Putin did not directly address the question of the ongoing Ukraine war, now in its 18th month. The conflict, Europe’s largest land war since World War II, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded for both Russia and Ukraine, and fundamentally ruptured Moscow’s relations with the West.
He did, however, assert that the United States and Western allies were making a mistake in their support for Ukraine, a mistake similar to what the Soviet Union did.
“It’s not right to do anything in foreign policy that harms the interests of other peoples,” he said. “But that’s exactly the rake, if we’re going to talk about rakes, that leading Western countries, and above all the United States, are stepping on.”
Putin and other Kremlin officials have offered varying justifications for the invasion of Ukraine, including false allegations that Kyiv’s government is controlled by Nazis or that it was necessary to thwart Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.