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
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. …