In this regard, it is appropriate to recall that for the first time the need for political support of economic projects in the energy sector, our country was already in the process of establishing a large-scale Soviet gas project, the formation of which should be attributed to the fiftieth years of the last century. Soon after Stalin's death (which equated the sale of resources to “trade in the motherland”), the idea of organizing energy exports to Europe became real. Its approval in the Soviet political leadership was facilitated by the experience gained in the transportation of hydrocarbons, the end of the “era of cheap oil”, the growing “resource nationalism” and the task of integrating the Soviet Union into the world economic system. However, the practical implementation of the gas project then provoked a sharp increase in international tension and the well-known events of 1968 in Czechoslovakia, the result of which, in our opinion, was the military-strategic operation Danube, the largest military operation in Europe since the Second World War . As a result of its implementation, it was possible not only to prevent a major war in Europe and a revision of the postwar world order, but also to minimize the consequences of the implementation of the American project of the transatlantic partnership, which assumed the movement of the Old World in the wake of the New and limited European political subjectivity.
Perhaps, for the first time, a possible direct connection of the entry into Czechoslovakia of troops from a number of Warsaw Pact countries led by the Soviet Union with the provision of a Soviet gas project and the organization of large-scale energy exports to Western Europe were announced by Czech authors . In Russian literature, a similar attempt was also made in 2015 . Although the idea itself, as they say, "lay on the surface," both foreign and domestic official science was completely satisfied with the standard set of stamps that go back to the "ideological approach" characteristic of the Cold War era . Of course, in conditions where sources of stories “Danube” still remain classified; it is impossible to definitively confirm or deny this point of view. Nevertheless, in our opinion, it fits into the historical logic of the epoch and deserves the right to exist, answering at least one of the central questions: why did it take up to half a million soldiers and up to five thousand armored vehicles, if there were many other ways to change the unwelcome Czechoslovak leadership (up to the fatal coincidence that the duke de Richelieu hinted at in the famous novel, speaking of one of those events that change the face of the state)?
The analysis of the international situation of those years, characterized by the then unfolding “battle for domination in Europe”, also speaks in favor of the direct interconnection of 1968 events in Czechoslovakia with the gas project. The struggle between the island Anglo-Saxon and continental powers for hegemony on the European continent and in the capitalist system attracted the attention of far-sighted politicians defending the interests of continental states to the idea of “Greater Europe” expressed by European intellectuals. As a concrete political option, it was implemented by de Gaulle, who in 1959 made a famous speech about “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals” and subsequently turned this slogan into a kind of credo of French politics . Of course, taking into account the existence of the USSR, the least meant was a certain formed political union, it was only assumed a steady build-up of economic, political and cultural ties between continental countries. Despite the fact that initially this project was negatively received by the Soviet leadership headed by Khrushchev, he could rely on certain sympathies in the Soviet Union, at least because of the political orientation of the Soviet leadership to start gas exports to Europe. in terms of its economic growth and the conquest of a market niche.
Indeed, the formation of large-scale energy exports is a fundamentally new feature of the entire Soviet foreign policy of the second half of the 60-s. "Strategically-minded leaders of the USSR oil and gas complex (NK Baibakov, AK Kortunov, B.Ye. Shcherbina, N.S. Patolichev and others) understood that it was short-sighted to use all the oil and gas reserves of the USSR fields for internal needs . True, this theory also had opponents, but the idea of organizing the export of oil and gas to Europe  won. Energy cooperation could become a kind of bridge, thrown over ideological barriers, and contribute to the rapprochement of Western Europe and the Eastern bloc. The first gas pipeline was supposed to pass through Czechoslovakia - by that time gasification had already begun in Slovakia and, although its own gas was not enough, it did have some experience and trained personnel. In 1964, an agreement was signed on the construction of the Bratstvo intergovernmental gas pipeline (Dolina - Uzhgorod - Zakkordon - Bratislava), which opened Soviet exports to Europe. An alternative would be to purchase liquefied natural gas in Algeria and transport them by tanker . LNG transportation was actively developed by Americans, British, French, and began in the same 1964. However, business competition was not limited. The movement that started in the direction of “Greater Europe” met with fierce resistance from the Americans. The essence of Washington’s policy was to introduce into practice the theory of conflict management, developed in the same years by US intellectuals. The Americans managed to provoke the “Red May”, as a result of which the credibility of the “obstinate general” (not only coping with the situation, but also ensuring the victory of his party in the early elections) was undermined, and he, being poisoned by the antigollist press, was forced to resign . At the same time, the destabilization of the political situation in Czechoslovakia began.
For the Soviet Union, the “European unrest” carried a direct threat and the development of protest sentiments in Prague could lead to the disruption of the gas project, which had already spent much effort. It was obvious that the same youth-driven energy, directed not only against capitalism, but against communist dogmatism and socialist bureaucracy, would be used to disrupt the Soviet gas project. The aspiration of the Soviet Union (in the context of aggravated confrontation with NATO, the embargo on the supply of large diameter pipes and the appeal of the Government of West Germany to large steel companies with a request to cancel contracts concluded with the USSR) is fully justified to strengthen its position in Central Europe by deploying military contingent in Czechoslovakia. The presence of Soviet troops was a guarantee of stability and opened up broad possibilities for the rapid implementation of this project, which already required the concentration of resources at the expense of other industries and the well-being of the population. The stake was truly historical and in this sense, in our opinion, one should understand the famous words of Brezhnev, who stated that if Czechoslovakia were lost, he would have had to resign as general secretary.
In Czechoslovakia itself, in the second half of the 60s, the illusions preserved from the pre-war period and inspired the Prague Spring were strengthened, according to which the country's role was reduced to the “second Switzerland”, maintaining neutrality and being a kind of mediator between the liberal West and the socialist East, which suggested an eclectic combination of seemingly incompatible political traits of both systems. A long-timed idea has acquired a new sound and has made national pride wise. The need for the ideological justification of these aspirations has brought about such an ideological construction as the notorious “socialism with a human face”. However, all external forces saw the future of Czechoslovakia in a fundamentally different way and assigned him in their geopolitical plans nothing more than the role of a strategic springboard. This became especially evident in connection with the beginning of concentration on the Czechoslovak border of NATO troops and with preparations for special operations inside the country. In general, the pre-war situation repeated itself, when Prague, trying to outwit all the great powers, was itself the victim of its own intrigue.
Such a reversal could easily lead to a big war with the Soviet Union being drawn in, which was in line with the American strategy of fighting the “Greater Europe” project and finally fixed the European split. However, the brilliant planning and implementation of the military-strategic operation "Danube", the courage, endurance and professionalism of the military disrupted these plans. Already 10 in September 1968 in Moscow signed an agreement on the supply of natural gas from the USSR to Czechoslovakia and on cooperation in 1969. As soon as the outlines of interaction with the leadership of Czechoslovakia on the gas project were determined, the troops were immediately withdrawn from Prague. It is curious that potential trade partners from among ideological opponents have reacted very restrainedly to the deployment of troops. After the 1968 year, despite the external strengthening of anti-Soviet rhetoric, relations with Europe have improved so much that we can speak of de Gaulle’s direct continuity with “Big Europe”. The initiative, however, has now passed to Germany, and it is the gas-pipe deal that became the forerunner of the Eastern policy of Willy Brandt. This was followed by a series of historic agreements that changed Europe and defused international tensions, culminating in the signing in 1975 of the Helsinki Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Energy cooperation has become a fait accompli. Over the next two decades, the Soviet Union became a leading producer and exporter of natural gas. At the end of 1960, Soviet gas came to Czechoslovakia, to 1968 — to Austria, to 1972 — 1973 — to Germany and Italy, to 1975 — to Hungary, and a little later - to France and Finland. It was the beginning of gas supply to almost all of Europe. The main gas flows went through Czechoslovakia to Austria, Germany, and Italy. A powerful impulse followed with the beginning of the industrial development of unique resources of Western Siberia. The most insightful Czech authors in this regard note that it was not at all for the struggle against "socialism with a human face", but for the sake of control over the territory necessary for the "big deal" prepared by the Soviet Union, the Soviet troops were introduced and continued to be in Czechoslovakia over this country was far more important than political-ideological control .
We emphasize once again that the true nature of 1968 events should be speculated presumably, given that their final assessment is likely to become possible in many years. This circumstance fully applies to both well-established and newly formulated scientific ideas, including those related to the establishment of a direct relationship between the Soviet gas project and the events of 1968 in Czechoslovakia. Only one thing is indisputable: the success of hydrocarbon exports led the Soviet Union to the creation of an "energy empire", which determined both its historical fate and the fate of modern Russia. And let us ask ourselves: was there ever in history so that such a large-scale new reality would be born without a fierce military-political confrontation, quite consonant with our alarming modernity.
This publication is a text of the report made at the III INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL ECONOMIC CONGRESS and VI INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC AND PRACTICAL CONFERENCE "RUSSIA IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY: CHALLENGES AND DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTES" (Rostov-on-Don, 26-XNXXX
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