Warsaw, Poland – In his annual state of the union address, Russian President Vladimir Putin briefly referred to the Cold war-era Warsaw Pact, dissolved thirty years ago.
Putin’s “Warsaw Pact” comment in annual address
Putin’s state of the union speech came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West, exemplified by an unprecedented Russian military build-up at Ukraine’s border, growing concerns regarding the state of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and an unfolding diplomatic dispute with the Czech Republic over Moscow’s alleged role in a deadly 2014 depot explosion.
During his speech, President Vladimir Putin momentarily mentioned Russia’s Eastern European allies as “Warsaw… [Pact]” members, before correcting himself to refer to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Although the CSTO is seen as a less integrated, post-Soviet “successor” of the Warsaw Pact, the two organizations do not cover the same geographical area and countries. Most of the former Warsaw Pact members are now EU and/or NATO member states.
The former KGB officer’s slip of the tongue and reference to one of the most potent symbols of the Cold War did not go down too well in interested countries, drawing a mix of anger, sarcasm and mockery on social media.
What was the Warsaw Pact?
Signed in the Polish capital in 1955, the Warsaw Pact was a military alliance and collective defence treaty between the Soviet Union and seven Eastern bloc countries (East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania), designed as a counterweight to NATO, established in 1949.
Soviet marshal Ivan Konev was appointed commander of the Warsaw Pact armed forces, and led the Red Army’s brutal repression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956.
The Warsaw Pact’s largest ever military action took place with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 to crush the period of liberalisation known as the Prague Spring, one of the most traumatic events in the country’s modern history. Both Romania and Albania refused to take part in the invasion, and the latter even withdrew from the pact several weeks later.
What is the Collective Security Treaty Organization?
The Warsaw Pact started to unravel with the progressive fall of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was officially dissolved on July 1, 1991.
Former Soviet republics from the USSR, itself dismembered in December 1991, would eventually form the Collective Security Treaty Organization three years later. The CSTO now includes six member states (Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) following the withdrawal of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan in the late 1990s.
The former Central and Eastern European Warsaw pact members eventually joined NATO, starting with East Germany through its reunification with West Germany, followed by Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic (1999), Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria (2004) and Albania (2009).