Russia morally responsible for 1968 invasion-Putin
PRAGUE, Mar 1: Russian President Vladimir Putin said today his country bore a moral responsibility for the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, but stopped short of offering an apology that many Czechs have long sought.
The invasion ended the pro-democracy movement known as the ''Prague Spring'' and put the country firmly under Moscow's thumb.
''We do not bear any legal responsibility, but the moral responsibility is there,'' Putin said at a news conference in Prague after arriving today as part of a trip to central Europe to build bridges with the former Soviet satellites.
Many Czechs have hoped for a formal apology from Moscow but there has not been one. Former presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vaclav Havel signed a friendship treaty in 1993 repudiating the invasion and the occupation that followed.
Moscow had been growing increasingly nervous throughout 1968 at the liberalisation reforms of Czechoslovak Communist leader Alexander Dubcek, which included lifting censorship, and was under pressure to act from its other Warsaw Pact allies who feared contagion from the Prague Spring.
In one night, 4,600 tanks and 165,000 troops invaded from neighbouring Poland, Hungary and East Germany.
About 120 people were killed. Dubcek and the rest of the reformist leadership were abducted to Moscow where they agreed under pressure to backtrack on the liberalisation.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus told the news conference that the two countries must now look to the future and not let the past hinder relations.
Just prior to the news conference, officials signed several bilateral agreements aimed at bringing closer cooperation between Russia and the Czech Republic.