Russians Go Home

September 01, 1994

The Russian military evacuation of Germany, Estonia and Latvia, plus the British-French-American evacuation of West .

Berlin, mark the end -- finally -- of the World War II occupation.

The Soviets occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (which it evacuated last year) in 1940 partly to prepare for war with Germany. Soviet forces began the occupation of Germany, while conquering her along with the Western Allies, in 1945.

The Cold War held these forces in place long after their original mission had ended. It took the collapse of communism, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War to remove, finally, the anachronisms.

The occupation of Germany ends with a bang -- a ceremonial visit from President Boris Yeltsin yesterday -- marking the completion of the draw-down agreed to by the four World War II Allies and the two Germanys in the "Two plus Four treaty" of 1990. The occupation of Estonia and Latvia ends in a whimper. The Russians are slinking out, letting the Baltic peoples ring bells.

For many Russians it is a sad, humiliating, anti-climax. A recent survey showed 87 percent of Russian respondents favoring restoration of Russian influence in the world. The Russian troops in Germany -- the last 3,000 soldiers and 130 civilians -- are going back to a lower standard of living, unemployment and life without purpose.

Of some 46,050 apartments being built for returning Russian officers with $8.3 billion in German aid under the 1990 agreement, only 18,700 are ready. As for the Baltics, the Russians leave with grievances that the independent countries discriminate against Russian nationals.

The Germans are delighted to see the Russians go, the Baltic peoples more so. The Soviet occupation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in 1940 was really meant to end those nationalities forever, with many of their members sent to the Siberian gulag, their environments degraded for military purposes, multitudes of Russians moved in to Russify the countries. It was ethnic cleansing that failed. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- their languages and national traditions intact -- live again.

It is good that the last vestige of World War II in Europe ends before next year's 50th anniversary of Germany's surrender. It is closure long overdue.

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