Soviet invasion?

Published in Features, Volume 21

Above: A Soviet tank on the streets of Prague, 1968.  Western leaders feared a repeat in Warsaw in December 1980.

Above: A Soviet tank on the streets of Prague, 1968.
Western leaders feared a repeat in Warsaw in December 1980.

On 4 December 1980 a secret message was conveyed to the CIA by Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, a high-level informant within the Polish general staff, to the effect that fifteen divisions of the USSR (with support from Czechoslovak and East German units) were scheduled to invade Poland on the eighth of the month. Kukliński had been passing information to the United States for almost a decade by this date, including Moscow’s plans for the use of nuclear missiles in the event of a war with the west. He was regarded by his American handlers as a consummate military professional, cool and reliable at all times. As it turns out, on this occasion the information he provided was incorrect, and a meeting of Warsaw Pact leaders in Moscow on the following day agreed to give Stanislaw Kania, first secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party, more time to get the situation under control. For the time being, however, the west had genuine reason to fear an invasion.

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