As Soviets Go, East Looks West to Fill Security Void

Article excerpt

OFF to the side of a narrow road leading through the wooded Moravian highlands, stand huge, concrete-block houses. This remote site long served as one of the Soviet Army's largest ammunition dumps in Central Europe.

But today, the high explosives are gone and the munitions block houses are empty.

After occupying Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe for more than four-and-a-half decades, the Soviet Army is withdrawing. The Soviets pulled out of Hungary in March. Later this month, the last Soviet soldier will leave Czechoslovakia.

The ammunition from the Kvetne base already has been shipped back to the Soviet Union and the Soviets have returned control over the base to the Czechoslovak Army.

For Czechs and other East Europeans, the Soviet pullout has brought great joy - and new worries of a security vacuum. In the aftermath of the Soviet crackdown in the Baltics and Armenia, the East Europeans observe a Kremlin under siege by military hard-liners and fear that their fragile independence could be snuffed out by a Soviet backlash. Looking West, they see that NATO and Western Europe are not ready to protect them.

"One year ago, the Soviet Union was on a good democratic course," says Michael Kocab of the Czechoslovak Parliament committee supervising the Soviet pullout. "Today, it is a totally different situation, and it would be much more difficult to get such a good withdrawal treaty."

Moscow has asked for delays in the past few months in pulling troops out of Poland and eastern Germany. The Kremlin now says its soldiers will leave by 1994. Negotiations on new security treaties with Moscow, meanwhile, are stalled. The Soviet Union still insists that its former satellites sign "friendship" treaties forbidding them from joining any alliance hostile to the Soviet Union. With the exception of Romania, the East Europeans refuse.

A neutrality clause, the East Europeans argue, would impinge on their newly won sovereignty. The Warsaw Pact's military arm was dissolved in March. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary want its political skeleton dismantled as well.

As cogs in the Soviet military machine, East European armies used to sit mainly along their western borders. Units now are being shifted eastward. Each country wants smaller armies with better weapons, manned by professionals, not by conscripts. They are considering buying Western arms, exploring joint-purchasing schemes to save money, and negotiating mutual defense pacts with each other. In adddition, Hungary and Czechoslovakia have civilian defense ministers, and Poland soon will.

But the East Europeans know there is little that they could do to stop a Soviet assault by themselves. …