Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow bears moral responsibility for the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, part of an effort to ease anger over the past and boost relations with former Soviet satellites in Central Europe.
Putin said that his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, had been speaking for Russia when he condemned the crackdown that ended the Prague Spring reform movement during a 1993 visit here.
"We share all the assessments that were made at the beginning of the 1990s ... I must tell you very frankly that while there is not and cannot be legal responsibility here, there is of course a moral responsibility and it cannot be otherwise," Putin said at a news conference with Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
On Tuesday, he made a similar statement in Hungary about the Soviet-led crushing of the 1956 revolution there. In Prague, he stressed that Soviet actions should not be ammunition against Russia, warning against "using the tragic events of the past to whip up anti-Russian sentiment."
Putin's gesture contrasted with celebrations last year of the 60th anniversary of the Nazi defeat, when he celebrated the Soviet role as liberator in Europe and glossed over its brutal conduct in the ensuing decades.
The statements appeared aimed to improve his own image, and Russia's, during visits reflecting hopes of restoring economic connections and clout in former Warsaw Pact nations that are now EU and NATO members.
He had a responsive audience in Klaus, who emphasized that talks should focus on the future.
Klaus also offered support for Putin on the issue of war-shattered Chechnya, expressing concern about the situation there, but saying that Putin's government was no less concerned and has taken steps toward a solution.
Putin got a far cooler welcome from former Czech President Vaclav Havel, the leader of the 1989 revolution that toppled Czechoslovakia's Communist regime. Havel signed a commentary in a newspaper Wednesday accusing the Russian government of using the threat of Chechen terrorism to "liquidate freedoms gained with the fall of (the) Soviet empire."
Putin pushed through electoral laws curtailing representational democracy following a wave of terror attacks blamed largely on Chechen rebels in 2004, reports AP.
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