Soviet nuclear arsenal in Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia was the last communist country of Central and Eastern Europe to host Soviet troops during the Cold War. They arrived in 1968 as “brotherly assistance” to help keep the communist hardliners in power, and they stayed until the fall of communism 19 years later. One of the top secrets of the military command was the fact that the Soviets deployed nuclear warheads on Czechoslovak territory.
“Of course they were here. The Soviet Army had nuclear weapons in several storage facilities in Czechoslovakia, but the Czechoslovak army did not own them. The storage facilities were built in 1969. I don’t know when exactly nuclear weapons were brought here but it was certainly some time in the 1970s, at the latest.”
The issue whether or not Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia were armed with nuclear weapons was top secret throughout the communist era. An open debate on the issue only started after the 1989 revolution but there was a lack of evidence, one way or another. Even today, the Russian embassy in Prague is refusing to formally confirm the missiles’ existence. Vladimir Fedorov is the embassy’s spokesman.
“As far as Mr Vacek’s statement is concerned, there is good reason to believe that there have never been nuclear weapons on Czech soil.”
Petr Luňák is the author of “Planning the Unthinkable: Czechoslovak War Plans 1950 – 1990”. I asked him if he thought General Vacek was right.
“What surprises me is that General Vacek has come out with this statement because he was until recently vociferously denying the fact that nuclear warhead could have been deployed on Czech territory. In fact, I published a book last year which, among other things, contains a Czechoslovak-Soviet treaty from 1965 that sets the ground for the construction of three nuclear storage facilities for Soviet nuclear war heads. We don’t have any hard evidence that nuclear warheads were actually deployed on Czech territory but we have every reason to believe that they were.”
“I believe that we are now standing in the launch control room because we are looking at something we both agree might have been a launching pad. It looks like some kind of a small flat plateau with stairs going to the top of it and with gun posts all around it. We are now some 100 to 200 metres from the site where the bunker stood. I think it has been covered up with soil. They must have done it shortly after our visit because they didn’t like us being here at all. But if we searched the whole area here I believe we would find all the other launching pads. I was here with some 30 or 40 other people and they all witnessed what we saw.”
“I was asked the same question at the first press conference in 1989 on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia. The answer was affirmative. We did indeed have nuclear weapons in the rocket brigades as part of the Central Group of Soviet Forces that I commanded. During the Cold War, and especially on the frontier with the NATO block, it would be illogical to have nuclear carriers without nuclear ammunition.”
The Czechoslovak army did not have the warheads at its disposal as they would only be released in the event of an armed conflict with the West. They were under the direct command of Moscow headquarters, and were removed very soon after the Warsaw Pact started to collapse in late 1989. General Vorobyov again.
Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. For definite proof of a Soviet nuclear arsenal in Czechoslovakia though, we will have to wait for Russian military archives to open up.