Fifteen years ago, on June 27th, 1991, commander general Eduard Vorobyev headed east from Prague to Kyiv. A year and a half after the Velvet Revolution, he was the last Soviet soldier to leave Czechoslovak territory after 23 years of military occupation.
The departure of the Soviet troops in 1991
When the Velvet Revolution swept the communists from power in late 1989, the first independent Czechoslovak government had several major issues to contend with—one of the most obvious being the 92 000 Soviet soldiers on Czechoslovak territory. They were here, along with over 44 000 of their family members from the Soviet Union, and military equipment that included 1120 tanks, 2505 combat vehicles, 103 aircraft, 173 helicopters, and several thousands of tonnes of ammunition. And by June 27th, 1991, the last of them was traveling back to Ukraine's capital city.
In many ways, their relatively quick departure was a small miracle. The civilians from various parts of the Soviet Union had little desire to return to their native country because the standard of living was better in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet soldiers, of course, also enjoyed many perks in a country they were assigned to watch over. In early 1990, there was also the question of having the Soviets accept that their military occupation of Czechoslovakia, which began on 21 August 1968, was over and no longer acceptable to the international community.
Milovice, photo: Archive of Radio Prague
In January and February 1990, two rounds of negotiations took place between the Czechoslovak and Soviet foreign ministers and an agreement on the departure of Soviet troops was signed. The withdrawal itself was overseen by a Czech rock singer called Michal Kocab, who lead a special department at the Czechoslovak Defense Ministry; it kept an eye on the operation, ensuring that the Soviet military did not dispose of ammunition improperly, and thus pollute the environment. Still, Czechs close to former Soviet military bases, such as the one near Mimon, north Bohemia, are to this day uncomfortable with wandering in the forests once occupied by Soviet troops and used for military exercises.