Soviet forces still in Germany relieved at news from home THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 22, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun

WUENSDORF, Germany -- A quiet euphoria reigned over the headquarters of the Soviet forces in Germany yesterday as news of the unsuccessful coup in Moscow filtered down to ordinary soldiers.

Several days of uncertainty and rumors of being drawn into a civil war back in the Soviet Union evaporated for the 270,000 men still stationed in eastern Germany. While most officers refused to comment on the events, recruits flashed grins and gave thumbs-up signs of approval to the news that President Mikhail S. Gorbachev probably will stay in office.

"Gorbachev wasn't perfect, but at least he was trying to move forward. The more I heard of the new [coup] leadership, the less I liked it," Pvt. Sergei Mastvetnov said.

Although most soldiers were restrained in their comments when the attempted coup began Monday, the reverse was true yesterday. Many had opinions, and few seemed troubled by the presence of officers.

"We just had to watch television yesterday to see what they [the coup plotters] had in mind. It was pre-glasnost and so dull. I didn't want that again," Private Mastvetnov said.

The troops form part of what once was a force in East Germany of 370,000, the strongest pillar of support in the hard-line East German state. They are being withdrawn under a treaty with united Germany that will see them leave in stages by 1994.

Their commander, Gen. Matvey Burlakov, also indicated yesterday that he would back whatever the outcome was in the Soviet Union. In a meeting with Manfred Stolpe, the governor of Brandenburg state, General Burlakov re-emphasized his plans to adhere to the withdrawal treaties and said later that the troops' morale was "excellent."

"General Burlakov told me that he intended to follow the Soviet Constitution. I think the meaning is plain enough," Mr. Stolpe said, adding that Mr. Gorbachev was the elected president of the Soviet Union.

Although there seemed to be general acceptance of the coup's failure, there was also criticism of Mr. Gorbachev from the soldiers, who face a bleak future upon their return home.

"He should try to improve our standard of living. We should be a rich country and not always begging for help from outside," said Sgt. Yevgeni Levin.

Sergeant Levin's friend, Sgt. Igor Sosnovev, said that even though Mr. Gorbachev survived, his days may be numbered.

"We Russians are counting on Boris Yeltsin. Coup or no coup, Gorbachev is a man from yesterday," Sergeant Sosnovev said.

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