No. LVII Hans van Baalen, Netherlands

August 23, 1968 Russia and most of it´s Warsaw Pact allies or better said proxy´s invaded Czechoslovakia which tried, under Alexander Dubcek, to reform the country by creating “Socialism with a human face”. The USSR proved to be what it was: an aggressive oppressor which wants to keep and extend its power irrespective of human casualties Many Czechs and Slovaks went into external or internal exile (“Innere Immigration”). The Initiators and supportes of the Prague Spring were either obducted, killed or sidelined. “Normalisation” ment a long period of oppression and stagnation.

If we look at Putin-Russia over the last years, we can only conclude that Russia’s actions and policies in the Cold War come close to today’s actions and policies in Eastern Ukraine, in the illegally annexed Crimea, in the Kaukasus and beyond.

NATO was in 1968 unable to intervene in support of the Prague Spring, as it was unable to support the Hungarian uprising in 1956. In the end the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe had to liberate themselves when the Soviet Union was declining and when Mihail Gorbatshov did not want to defend the communist dictatorships at the expense of Russia.

In 1968, I saw what happened in Czechoslovakia through television and radio, I was deeply moved by this cruel Soviet invasion with its tanks in Prague and other cities paving their way through masses of peaceful demonstrators. How much better is the situation today? NATO did not support Georgia when it was invaded by Russia in August 2008. Ukraine did not received real support either. Western sanctions are wishy-washy. However, something is better than nothing.

President Putin was invited at the wedding of Austria Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, Saturday August 18 and danced with her before leaving for Berlin. Kneisl who was proposed as Foreign Minister by the extreme right FPÖ wants to end sanctions on Russia. In Berlin Putin had three hours of talks with German Chancellor Angelika Merkel. What price did he pay in the end for his interventions over the last years in what he calls Russia’s Near Abroad and his support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria? Not much, like the USSR got away with crushing the Prague Spring and the Hungarian uprising, Putin seems to get away with his actions today.

Europe and the US should unite and to make it impossible for Putin not to withdraw. His cost should be simply too high. That is what made Russia to retreat in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Russia could simply not pay the price of occupation and aggression. Let that be a lesson to all of us.

Hans van Baalen MEP, ALDE Party President, he studied International Law and International Relations at Leyden University. He worked for Deloitte, was International Secretary of the Dutch Party VVD. Since 2009 he is MEP and since 2015 ALDE Party President.