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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Feared Soviets Would Invade Romania

LONDON -- Britain came close to war with the Soviet Union in late 1968 when it became convinced by intelligence reports that Moscow was about to invade Romania, the Observer newspaper reported Sunday.

Quoting previously secret government papers released to the public on Saturday, it said then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson had ordered contingency plans to thwart what he feared would be a Soviet push into Romania and possibly Yugoslavia.

Romanian strongman Nicolae Ceausescu had condemned Moscow's crushing of the Prague Spring reforms when Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia on Aug. 20, 1968, and the Observer said Moscow resolved to teach him a lesson.

Minutes from British government meetings in early September 1968 quote then Defense Secretary Denis Healey as saying Britain could not stand idly by while Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev drove Soviet expansion forward.

The next day he warned that if NATO did not oppose Soviet expansion, Moscow would be encouraged to move against countries such as Finland, Sweden, Iran and possibly Britain's fellow NATO members Greece and Turkey.

Tension continued to rise and by Nov. 19 of that year, Britain believed an invasion of Romania was imminent after a Dutch intelligence report claimed that 150,000 Soviet, Polish and Hungarian forces planned to move on Bucharest on Nov. 22.

The Observer quoted Wilson's biographer Ben Pimlott as saying the Soviet Union's backdown was a defining moment and possibly even more important in bringing about the end of the Cold War than Moscow's later decision not to crush the Solidarity reform movement in Poland.