PRAGUE (AP) — Cold War documents released this week show that Soviet leaders were so worried about the 1968 Prague Spring reform movement in Czechoslovakia that they sent experienced KGB spies to help thwart it, a researcher said Thursday.
On the orders of KGB head Yuri Andropov, 15 agents came in May 1968 to target Czechoslovakia's intellectual elite, a major force behind attempts to reform the communist regime in the 1960s.
Milan Barta, a senior researcher at Prague's Institute for Study of Totalitarian Regimes who examined copies of documents released by Cambridge University to The Associated Press, said the operation against the Prague Spring protagonists was the first such KGB action against a Warsaw Pact ally.
"The agents were previously based in Western countries, and that shows it was of great importance for them," Barta said. "The Soviet side was afraid that Czechoslovakia was turning to the West."
He said the mission was part of the preparation for the Soviet-led military invasion that crushed the reform movement in August 1968.
The documents are copies of KGB files smuggled out of Russia in 1992 by senior KGB official Vasili Mitrokhin. Cambridge University is giving researchers access to 19 boxes containing thousands of files.
The unidentified agents were supposed to "infiltrate the reactionary circles" and to carry out unspecified special operations.
Among those they were ordered to target were authors Milan Kundera and Pavel Kohout, leading journalists and academics and students from Prague's Charles University.
"They considered the worst enemies those who could influence public opinion through media," Barta said. "They concluded that the major supporters and driving force of the reforms are the media and people linked to them."
Two of the spies made a failed attempt to kidnap literary historian Vaclav Cerny and author Jan Prochazka.
Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.