The Soviet Union's decision to send tanks into Hungary and Czechoslovakia to crush reform movements during the Cold War was a mistake, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on September 12, answering a question at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.
The Russian president said "it was a mistake" when he was asked about perceptions of Russia as a colonial power due to Moscow's decision to send tanks into Budapest in 1956 and into Prague in 1968.
"It has long been recognised that this part of the Soviet Union's policy was wrong and only led to tension. It is not right to do anything in foreign policy that harms the interests of other peoples," said Putin, who in 2022 sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine, triggering the biggest land war in Europe since WWII.
Putin said the United States was making the same mistakes as the Soviet Union. He said Washington had "no friends, only interests".
Last month, a Russian textbook for 11 graders stirred up political debate in Hungary over the interpretation of the uprising in October 1956 that was crushed two weeks later. The textbook called the revolution a fascist uprising and criticised the withdrawal of the Soviet army from the former Communist satellite.
The Russian embassy in Budapest tried to downplay the controversy, accusing Riga-based Russian- and English-language independent news website Meduza of disseminating anti-Russian fake news. There have been at least 10 versions of the textbook, they argued.
Hungarian media released the final version of the text, which refers to some of the insurgents as former soldiers of fascist Hungary, who took up arms and committed numerous murders against representatives of the Hungarian Workers' Party, members of law enforcement forces, and their family members.
Although there were lynchings and crimes committed during the two-week uprising, the 1956 revolution was the culmination of discontent after years of Stalinist rule in the 1950s. Peaceful protests led by workers and students quickly gathered momentum and escalated into a full-scale uprising. Hungarians attempted to break free from Soviet domination and establish a more democratic and independent government.
The United States and other Western countries voiced support for the Hungarian uprising but did not provide direct military intervention. Some 2,500-3,000 Hungarians died during the intense fighting and more than 200,000 left the country. In the campaign of repression, some 400 were executed, including Imre Nagy, the prime minister during the revolution.
The Hungarian government’s response to the blatant distortion of historical facts was rather muted. The foreign ministry refrained from its usual confrontational approach over the issue as calls for summoning the Russian ambassador intensified.
The foreign ministry tried to downplay the controversy, saying the historical significance of the 1956 is not up for debate.
As expected, the government and its media played for time and waited until the issue lost public interest.