Environmental damage caused by Soviet troops not yet fully repaired

The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia resulted in a permanent Soviet military presence on Czech soil. Between 1968 and 1991 –when the last of the Soviet troops finally left the country – they operated in 73 localities. The environmental damage they caused is taking years to repair and has already cost billions of crowns. Jakub Kašpar is a spokesman for the Czech Environment Ministry:

“The Soviet troops operated in 73 locations on the territory of the Czech Republic and sixty of them were left considerably contaminated. The main problem was the contamination of ground water by fuels like petrol or diesel and other toxins like oil-based hydrocarbons, chlorinated hydrocarbons or polychlorinated biphenyls. Another big problem was dumps of hazardous waste.”

And I understand there was a lot of unexploded ammunition about –unexploded mines?

“Yes, that is correct.”

So how much has been cleaned up to date?

The departure of Red Army
“The vast majority of contaminated sites have been cleaned up or are being cleaned up at the present time - 1,4 billion crowns have already been invested in clean-up work and we expect that another 240 million will be invested between now and 2012 when the sanitation project should be concluded. So the clean-up operation should end eleven years after the last Soviet soldier left the Czech Republic.”

Was the damage contained at least or has it affected people living nearby?

“The main contamination happened on military sites which were not inhabited by civilians but there were also some sites located in the close vicinity of towns where the Soviet troops had their barracks, so for instance there are some contaminated sites in Milovice where people live or in Neředin near Olomouc where there are also people living in the area. So there was a risk that the contamination could affect civilians, but fortunately sanitation work started very quickly –almost as soon as the last Soviet train left the Milovice train station clean-up work began.”

Milovice airport | Photo: Tiia Monto,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0
How is it possible that there was so much damage done –wasn’t there an environmental clause in the contracts signed on the use of these areas – or were there no contracts at all with the Soviets?

“Frankly speaking, in communist Czechoslovakia there was very little environmental legislation in place and that which existed was very weak. And of course, the Soviet army was not interested in environmental protection.”

Is it possible to clean up these sites completely or will there be lasting damage?

“I think we will be able to clean them up completely and there should be no problem after 2012.”