Tag Archives: Soviet Union

The Kremlin Conspiracy August 1991

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

On August 18 1991 the conspiracy by the high rank officials of the Kremlin and the KGB took place. A group of Soviet hardliners tried to avert the fall of the Soviet Union. In the end because of their incompetence, cowardice in contrary to the bravery of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yelstsin and the defenders of the White House their plot failed. Soviet Union collapsed anyway and Latvia could once again regain its independence.

The KGB 9th division was responsible for guarding and escorting the Soviet leaders and high rank officials. In Foros, Crimea where the president of the USSR resided, his guard Vasili Kravets was in his usual duty. His everyday duty was fulfilling the needs of the officials who rested in this governmental resort. Like sending back to Moscow two jackets that the Minister of the Interior affairs Boris Pugo forgot. Or arranging a limo for one guest to visit another. Suddenly in his control system the red alarm signal of the radio station “Alternativa” (Alternative) begun to flash. This meant that there is a failure in the communication line with the mansion of the president of the USSR. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Kravets immediately made contact with KGB 21st division responsible for governmental communications. They said: “We will check!”. The red signal continued to flash even more. Kravets again made contact he received the answer: “The communications have been disrupted by hill landslide, the repair works have begun!”. It was Sunday August 18 1991.

At this same moment the gates of the presidential mansion opened. The KGB codenamed this mansion as the “object Zarya”. Five Volga limos entered the mansion without invitation or announcement. The security guards could not allow such trespassing, but from the first limo the head of the KGB Security Service Yuri Plehanov and the major Vyacheslav Generalov the chief of the technical authority and the Crimea KGB chief from 9th Division colonel Lev Tolstoy stepped out. From other cars many more important Soviet officials came out. The security guards where ordered to lay down their arms and not to forget Romania where the guards defended their dictator Ceausescu and how it ended. The guards were in complete incomprehension- what it had to with Romania? There the president was deposed and the guards defended him and perished with him altogether. But here everything was suppose to be alright?

The mansion was sealed with additional guards from Moscow. The telephone lines were disrupted. Unimaginable, but the presidential mansion guarded by 500 well armed men, three defense lines, 34 border guard posts, special task force Alfa and air fleet in the Black Sea. However, all this defense personal was not really subordinated to the president himself. They were the employees of the KGB. And it was the KGB that decided to turn the tables on the Mikhail Gorbachev who got him effectively trapped in the “Golden cage”.

The president was worried about this sudden visit. He either thought they going to put a pressure again, or try to depose him from power. The two men who trapped the Gorbachev were: Vyachelav Generalov the head of the KGB special maintenance and technical authority. His task was to take over the presidential mansion and keep the president imprisoned there. He knew everything about the mansion and was fiercely loyal. His chief was Yuri Plehanov general lieutenant the head of the KGB security service.

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The main spokespersons of the conspirators were secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee Oleg Shenin and Oleg Baklanov the head of the Military Industrial complex. According to plan Shenin was to speak first, but Gorbachev seized the moment and started to talk with Baklanov who he thought was their leader. They wanted to convince Gorbachev to step down by his own will, implying on his bad state of health and fatigue. Gorbachev said that this was out of the question and reminded about the planned signing of the New Union Treaty on August 20. The Union Law was a last straw for Gorbachev to save the USSR, but everyone knew that the Baltic states will not going to sign it. They said to him that there will be no such treaty and the head of the Russian Federal Socialist Republic Boris Yeltsin is arrested. He then corrected himself: will be arrested! The conspirators shamefully asked “Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich! We don’t ask nothing from you. Remain here for some time. We will do all the dirty work for you!” Gorbachev insisted that he will not resign and go into any ventures. Then the chief of the USSR Land forces general Valentin Varenikov lost his patience and shouted “Resign!”. He shouted angry remarks about the bad shape of the army, the shameful retreat fro East Germany and the nationalists that do what they want. In the end Gorbachev stood firm against the plotters and asked to inform their masters in Moscow to call the Higher Council or the Party Congress. Plotters in shame left the mansion. Despite the enormous force they had, they could not force their president to resign.

The conspirators  in Moscow were anxious.  The Soviet defense minister Dmitri Yazov informed the army command and issued that the state of emergency is possible. Yazov announced that all resources had to be taken control of. All  state services and the civil security. The Moscow Guard 2th mobile riflemen division  and 4th guard tank division had to take over the city. The 106th Tula paratrooper division was called to Moscow. The conspirators who called themselves the State Committee on the State of Emergency (SCTE) (Государственный комитет по чрезвычайному положению, ГКЧП) with the Minister of the Interior an ethnic Latvian Boris Pugo and the chief of the KGB Vladimir Krychkov issued a state of emergency.

These people were the hardline communists or even neo-Stalinists. Dmitri Yazov a WW2 veteran and Soviet patriot could not bear with the changes made by Gorbachev and the direction the Soviet empire is heading to. Soviet army was forced to leave East Germany and other former Eastern European satellites. Soviet army was unable to stop separatism in the Caucasus and in the Baltic states. Both the KGB and the Soviet army were ready to suppress them with extreme force. But, no direct order from Gorbachev ever followed. Gorbachev himself was against the independence of the Baltic states or other republics. But, he was caught up with the promises to the western leaders, his own mistakes and in belief that things can be solved diplomatically. After the events in Riga and Vilnius in January 1991, he was no longer trusted both by the west and his aides. His principal mistake was to fire the liberal reformers with who begun his Perestroika policy and surrounded himself with hardliners from KGB and the army.

The chief of the KGB Valentin Krychkov was constantly afraid from the “influence agents” from abroad who wants to topple the Soviet Union. He blamed them for the rotten state economy. His most paranoid belief that the western countries are trying to artificially downsize the number of the Soviet citizens. According to his “information’ the CIA plans to lower the demographics of the USSR by 150-160 million people. The Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov considered his western counterparts a “saboteurs”. The Soviet Vice President Genady Yanayev was an ambitious man who felt himself endangered by the incoming changes. All these men feared the signing of the New Union Treaty that would make for some of them to lose their jobs.

The New Union Treaty would replace 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and replace the USSR with a new country Union of Sovereign States. It would be a less centralized state with more freedoms to participating republics. However, the Baltic States, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia were not going to sign therefore fully breaking away from Moscow. Also people such as Yanayev and Pavlov would lose their jobs. After Gorbachev had removed the Communist party monopoly of power, on March 1990 a plot was born to remove the liberal reformers and encircle Gorbachev with hardliners. They succeed by removing a Gorbachev long time ally Alexander Yakovlev. Other two enemies the Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin  Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR were far tougher enemies and was on the arrest list.

After the conspirators learned that Gorbachev had rejected a plea to resign by his own will, the conspirators wanted to remove his power because of his illness. After long hesitation Gennady Yanayev wrote the directive of taking the presidential office. They had lost the legitimacy they hoped to get from Gorbachev now they were playing a dangerous game. The speaker of the Soviet parliament Anatoly Lukyanov also was dissatisfied with the New Union Treaty, however when the conspirators informed about their actions and asked to join, he denounced their actions. However, he merely just asked them to remove him from their plotter list.

First arrests begun on the morning of August 19. The head of the Human rights “Schit” Nikolay Pavlenko met the SCTE men with a tear gas canister and an ax and managed to hurt them before his arrest. However, they could not arrest Yeltsin. He was able to leave his house and with his collage Ruslan Hasbulatov open the extraordinary meeting of the RSFSR Supreme Council. Soviet tanks were present at RSFSR building also called White House, but were not willing to shoot at anyone. Yelstin used this and stepped on one their tanks and declared that the coup has taken place and the legally elected president has been deposed. He asked for all Soviet citizens not to listen to the SCTE. It was a definite movement, the conspirators now encountered a serious enemy. Meanwhile Gorbachev was sealed off from all radio and TV sources and heavily guarded. The head of the Ukrainian SSR   Leonid Kravchuk accepted the coup and did nothing for the president who was imprisoned on his territory.

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

However, on August 19 things were still looking bright for conspirators. Except the Baltic States no serious protests took place. Radio stations and newspapers considered rouge were closed. In theory they had enough force to suppress any kind of resistance. But, then on 15:00 first reports of protests and strikes within mainland Russia begun. Yanayev with a shaking hands took a press conference in front of Soviet and foreign journalists. He lied about Gorbachev health state. Meanwhile in the Crimea the major of Yalta where the Gorbachov lived warned Generalov who was responsible for the mansion, that since Gorbachev is no longer in office, the mansion will no longer receive food supplies. To solve this issue, Generalov summoned his employee to Yalta. There Gorbachev ordered to send a letter of two demands – 1) give an airplane to return to Moscow 2) restore communications. This packet was sent and reached Yanayev.

Meanwhile Yelstin had issued that all Interior forces, army and KGB units should subordinate to the president of RSRSR that was Yelstin himself. On the night of 19-20 August the commander of the Taman tank division major Sergei Yevdokimov was not informed why his tanks are in the city center. He only learned the true reason from the crowds that started to gather in thousands. People asked him and his men to join the Yelstin side. They placed metal bars in the tank tracks to make them immobile. He then soon met the RSFSR parliament members who convinced him that this is a conspiracy and Gorbachev is trapped in Crimea. They asked to help him to defend the White House against the possible assault. Major Yevdokimov agreed and when he went back to his men he heard the news on the radio about him joining the Yeltsin forces. He only managed to move six tanks out of 10 because first barricades were built and to escape accidents he left the remaining tanks on the bridge. He himself never acknowledged that he actually joined the Yeltsin ranks, but just agreed to move tanks closer to the White house to escape the civilian causalities.

After watching the infamous press conference on TV Gorbachev asked if Yanayev has received his demands. After not getting any affirmative answer he decided to make an unusual and a desperate step. Since all communication equipment was confiscated he used an amateur TV  camera to record his message to the world. He stated that the reason for his removal was false and its an unconstitutional coup. The message was recorded perfectly, his wife and son in law then dismounted the VHS cassette and planned the way on how to send it to Moscow.

On the morning of 20 August the SCTE was aware of their worse situation. They were unable to impose order in the streets of Moscow and the main rivals were free to whatever they want. Yeltsin who was still free because of the incompetence of the capturing team, was now set to be arrested. Also the parliament building of the RSFRS had to be attacked. The plans were thought out how to do it. The operation was called “Thunder” coincidentally a same name was given to unrealized Stalin’s plan to attack Germany in 1941… However the Generals were worried about the large crowds and barricades and the armed defenders of the White House. The attack was set to start on August 21 at 3:00. The attack would involve regular soldiers, tanks, special forces and snipers.

Yeltsin had called a large rally at 12:00 despite the ban on public gathering thousands came. The Whole Soviet Union was alarmed by the never seen before manifestation. At 20:00 the SCTE held a meeting and realized they are standing on very thin base. Many soldiers joined the protesters. The Eho Moskvi Radio station was not closed because one colonel defended it and now it became the main voice of opposition. The whole square of the White House was filled with large crowds, many were armed with Molotov cocktails.   Then at 21:00 a woman entered the barricades and claimed she has very important information. She was taken to the headquarters of the defenders of the White House.  She claimed her husband a KGB officer has received orders to take part in the attack that would begin at 3:00. Later he masked in hood appeared himself and warned about the special task force Alpha attack. Radio issued all women to leave the square. Defenders gathered in companies and squads made a living defense line. The element of surprise was lost.

Soviet tanks near the White House

Soviet tanks near the White House

Meanwhile the Alpha team was uneasy about their given task. Many did not want to kill their own government and the people. Such an attack would cause enormous losses of life’s on both sides. And the mass media attention from the whole world was more than ever. The SCTE order was insane, and even the Alpha team understood this and in the end asked to cancel the order. At 24:20 a brief battle erupted between the Taman tank division and the protesters in the Sadovoje koļco tunnel on the way to the White house. The curfew was issued to prevent the people from entering the White House square. The Taman tank division was tasked to ensure the curfew. As they moved towards the Smolensk square, they were attacked with stones. Armored vehicles broke through the trolleybus barricades. But, a war journalist first rank captain Mihail Glovlko was standing in the way with the raised hands, he was hit by the fast moving vehicle.  At that moment a 23 year old Afghan war veteran jumped Dmitri Kromar on the BMP 536 vehicle and tried to cover its sightseeing hatch to make it “blind.” The BMP tried to steer its turret to get him off and succeed. But by the hitting the  pole the hatch  opened. Kromar chased the BMP and jumped in it trough the open hatch. BMP made a swift move and threw him out, but his clothes get stuck in the open hatch dragging Kromar on the ground as the BMP moved backwards. 37 year old Vladimir Usov rushed to help and was shot dead by the warning shots from BMP crew.  Another protester throwing rocks Krichevsky was also killed.

All this made the General Yazov to finally cancel the order to attack the White House. It was a suicide for him and the whole coup, but it was the only possible solution. Two KGB mobile brigades was just an hour from the main target. Meanwhile, a special task force landed in the Crimea and was ready to storm the Gorbachev mansion. On August 21 Yazov decided to miss the SCTE morning meeting, making things worse. Now the last chance to save something was flying back to Crimea. On 14:15 Yazov, Baklanov, Lukyanov and others took the plane to Crimea.

However, Yeltsin also wanted to visit Gorbachev. Krysckhov chief of KGB did everything to prepare the SCTE visit in time. He received a message that the SCTE time for the Gorbachev visit was over and at 16:00 the Yeltsin delegation will fly to Foros. Krychkow said that he would join the delegation and asked to postpone the flight until the evening. It was a lie and it was only discovered once the SCTE plane was already in the air. Yeltsin was unable to get there before them and only could bring the plane down which he refused. Conspirators landed at the airfield filled with marines ready to strike the presidential mansion. However, they were convinced that they will be greeted peacefully for a cup of tea.

Instead they were greeted with AK-47′s and Gorbachev refused to talk to them before the arrival of the Yeltsin delegation. Meanwhile the Yeltsin TU-154 airplane made circles around the Belbeck airfield. They were refused to land. After Gorbachev’s communications were restored, the plane landed. KGB special forces silently left the airfield. The Russian government were the ones who brought back Gorbachev home to Moscow. But this was no longer the country he once ruled.

The Baltic States declared full independence and were officially supported by the majority of the world countries. All other Soviet republics followed suit. On August 29 the Communist Party was officially shut down and made illegal. On December 8 the USSR was officially dissolved.

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

The August Coup attempt was a heavy defeat for the KGB and the ultra patriotic army officials. However, the  KGB survived   and transformed into FSB the Federal Security Service. For many years these people sought to revenge on those who managed to break down the Soviet empire. In the end they succeeded – an ex KGB officer and the director of the FSB Vladimir Putin took over the modern Russia. Since then the Russian policy is based on revenge and revision. It’s a question if a similar situation  where the army and security forces will choose to support the people or to attack the White House like in 1995 by the Yeltsin orders. The Putin’s Russia has not yet reached this critical point and lets hope it will not reach it the same way.

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Latvia under the Soviet Union. Politics and economy 1945-1987

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Soviet Union defined itself as a Socialist country that is on her way to communism. The official name – The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was actually “four words, four lies” as Cornelius Castoriadis called it. The Soviets were not democratically elected, it was not a Socialist, and union for in reality it was Unitarian state not union. The main points for the Soviet order was 1) communist party monopoly, 2) Democratic Centralism, 3) Complete state control over resources and production, 4) Communism as the desired goal of the government, 5) Strive for international victory of the communist order. The word “soviet” or сове́т (council) was intended as democratically elected workers and peasants governing body. However, when in 1922 the official USSR name was declared all power in the hands in the Communist party and the Soviets were under its direct control. This means that whole ideology and politics of the Soviet Union were based on double thinking, lies and imitation. The USSR was just a totalitarian single state centralized dictatorship. The double faced absurd system that actually survived for more than 80 years is still a mystery for many.

Latvia was included in the Soviet system as a full time socialist republic. The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic had limited rights of her own: constitution, own laws, own borders and administrative system. However, it was only on the paper as the Soviet Union was a federal country with the main orders coming from Moscow. However, it was still better because as a full time Socialist Republic Latvia could break away from Moscow more easier. For Autonomous Socialist republics like Chechnya or Tatarstan this proved to be impossible.  The LSSR constitution approved on August 25 1940 was a duplicate of the USSR 1936 constitution. Despite the constitution had promised that the republics may break away from the USSR, there was no mechanism defined how to do that. And even mentioning such possibility in private may cause the repressions from the KGB. There was LSSR passport that was given to all who lived in its territory. But, it had no legal effect , because one could legally live in Kazakh SSR with LSSR passport and with KSSR passport in Latvia. But, if someone wanted to travel outside the USSR, he received the USSR passport.

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Soviet Order was based on the single Communist party. LSSR has its own Latvian Communist Party (LCP) that was subordinated to the Soviet Union Communist Party (SUCP). The main governing bodies were the LCP Central Committee (LCP CC) and LSSR Soviet Council. The Supreme Council of the LSSR sessions was only called in case of  LCP CC appointment. Usually most political decisions were made in informal meetings and later officially issued. LCP CC was responsible for every sector of the republic. But, it was completely loyal to the SUCP CC in Moscow.

The party had committees in every village, city, factory that controlled everything under the guidance of the Central Committee. The Soviet Army had its own system of committees. Slowly the Soviet bureaucratic apparatus grew in enormous sizes, with numerous institutions and various rank officials making the bureaucratic chaos. The most prominent officials were the CC Secretaries who formed the Politburo. The Politburo was the main body above all.Moscow had her own bureaus summoned by Moscow and representatives sent from  Moscow. Local communists often had quarrels and disagreements that ended in the repressions. Moscow sent inspections to Latvia.   Moscow leaders were reluctant to meet directly with the local leaders. Stalin did this only once in 1949 to inform about the deportations, and Khrushchev and Brezhnev were also very distant.

The Latvian membership in the LCP was always quite mediocre comparing to the Lithuania. Lithuanian membership in 1953 in their party was only 37% but in 1965 it was 63,7%. This helped the Lithuanians to have more sovereign say in their local matters. Meanwhile in Latvia in 1959 there were 59% Latvians and in 1989 59% Latvians. The reasons for such low support was the high influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union that was more eager to join LCP. Latvians meanwhile viewed LCP as a rouge Russian party  that they could not join. The main motivation for joining the party was the advancement in carrier and more social privileges. But, the high Russian influence in the party meant that Latvians suffered greater pressure from Moscow and was unable to make nationally beneficial decisions like Lithuania and Estonia did. Estonians and Lithuanians took active part in the system to keep the foreigners away, but Latvians either refrained to work with the foreigners  or submitted to them. Also most Latvian communist leaders like J Kalbērziņs, A Peļše and A Voss where the survivors of Stalinist purges and obeyed every order from Moscow in the result.

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

Despite the official slogan for USSR as a completely socially equal country it was divided into complex social castes.  Above all were the nomenclature. It was a party apparatus of the party, administrative, financial and interior security workers. They enjoyed greater social guarantees than simple soviet citizens, better homes and better supply of food and household goods. They enjoyed special secret shops and supply system. The nomenclature was the Soviet bureaucratic elite that was more equal than other equal soviet citizens. While others stood in long lines for a slice of bread and toilet paper the elite communists had the first hand for everything. This was the root of the widespread corruption that slowly teared the USSR apart. After 1965 also WW2 veterans became a socially privileged class.

The Soviet propaganda always pointed the poverty, oppression and low economic advancements in the pre war Latvian Republic. The superiority of the Soviet centralized economy over Latvian trade economy was justified by the enormous Soviet industry. Also Moscow even now says that it invested enormous sums in Latvia.  In reality income gathered from Latvia from 1945-1950 was enough to cover the costs of maintaining the Soviet Army bases in Latvia. From 1945 to 1950 six billion rubles were transferred from Latvia to Moscow. From 1950 to 1959 LSSR gave more income to the USSR than USSR gave back. Money from Latvia was invested in Central Asian Republics and Siberian development. Since Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union this also can be seen as enormous looting of the Latvian resources in a long period of time.

Latvian industry was also advanced before the WW2. After the war much had been looted and destroyed. However, the Soviets managed to achieve great industrial breakthroughs by immigration. From 1945 to 1959 large numbers of people from Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine moved to Latvia. Their original living places were torn apart by the war and Stalinist terror. In 1940 there were 355 200 people living in Riga, but in 1958 489 100. To accommodate these people factories and living blocks had to be built in masses. On 1989 the citizen count in Riga nearly reached million people. Without such immigration Latvia would be unable to achieve such full scale industrialization. The Moscow did little to halt this immigration, because the moving the nations around the Soviet Union and the russifacation was one of the political principles.

The large residental blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

The large residental blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

The Soviet agricultural system was disastrous for Latvian country side. For centuries Latvians had developed a system of private farming. During the period of freedom from 1920-1940 Latvian agriculture was booming. However, Soviets nationalized all agricultural lands and repressed the rich land owners. The deportation of 1949 finally forced everyone to give up their land and join the collective farms- kolkhozs. The state took most production away from the collective farms, making farmers poor. Eventually to find a way out of this people were allowed to keep strictly normed “nearby gardens”. People could grow their own vegetables and potatoes that were taken away. Strict norms on keeping private cattle made people to device ways to hide their cows and pigs. Soviets changed the usual countryside, by making city like villages and filled them with residential blocks.  People were kept together as possible. Before the war people usually lived in their private households away from each other.

The standard of living in the first years till the death of Joseph Stalin was quite low. Despite the availability of jobs, the pay was low. The countryside was depopulated, people moved to the cities. Riga lacked apartments, in old nationalized apartment buildings built by Baltic German nobles, Soviets made collective flats or communal flats.  Many families shared one living space. In mid fifties new residential blocks were built and building of the new suburban residential areas continued until the end of the USSR. Many were concerned that the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe have a greater standard of living.

After the death of Stalin, his successors understood the danger of the unproductive Soviet system. The Soviet leaders slowly gave up the Stalinist means of repression, but were unable to give up centralized state economy. Khrushchev was a pioneer of many new social and economic policies, but he was unable to change all thing. Khrushchev firmly believed that the modern technology and progressive welfare policies will bring country closer to communism. The pension and payment system was improved, possibility of getting a flat or car was made more greater. People were motivated to work to get advancements. Slowly such things as TV, Radio and the washing machine entered every household. People finally could live more comfortably and enjoy some luxuries. However, Khrushchev also pushed for heavy arms race with US. The Soviet advancements in space and nuclear rocket technology made USSR more prominent. However, the quality and real count of the Soviet super weapons was far lower than the US ones. The US was scared of the Khrushchev threats and weapons therefore greatly overestimated the Soviet military power. That opened doors for mass production of weapons in the US and the reckless Soviet attempts to beat it. US had better chances to survive the arms race because the weapons were made by private industry, while Soviet made more and more weapons at the cost of everything else.

When Brezhnev came to power the Soviet economy faced regression. But, the Soviet politicians were “saved” from making new economic reforms. The Middle Eastern conflict caused the rise of the oil prices. Soviets years before had begun the building of gas and oil pipes, that exported the vast Soviet reserves to the Western world. Stalin had declared that the selling out the nation’s resources is a national treason. Now however, the rising oil prices that were comparatively high until the mid eighties kept the Soviet economy stable.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

Some authors claim that on 1975 Latvia reached the highest standard of living than ever before. However, comparing to Italy, Canada or even Poland it was still lower. Soviets tried to prevent Latvians to go abroad. However, those who saw world outside the Iron Curtain or even within it was shocked by the great difference. Consumer goods were still under deficit, having a car was regarded as the sign of personal wealth. The deficit of food, consumer goods and all kinds of products became eminent for years to come. The statewide Black Market emerged. It was called blat (блат) – the informal agreement between people to gain access to deficit goods. It was a system based on social status and profession. People exchanged goods for favors. The pseudo private trade market became so eminent that in many cases it was legalized. Legal trade like vegetables and flower selling emerged. Soviet leadership officially condemned the grey zone market or black market, but in reality did nothing much to stop it. Police fought illegal trade of currency and jewels.  Also book selling, audio copying of vinyl or cassette records was limited. Also antique collectors had to watch out.

The positive side of the Soviet occupation was the culture. Soviets understood that boosting culture and entertainment can keep them loyal an satisfied. The traditional Song and Dance Festival that had already begun on 19th century was kept by the Soviet ideology. Despite including some propaganda songs, the overall folk tradition was kept. However, there was a certain hostility towards Līgo celebrations. No holidays were set there and people were encouraged not to celebrate them. But, people still celebrated them.  In every five years Song and Dance festivals made Latvians again feel like national Latvians. In the sixties and fifties Latvian popular stage music boomed, composers like Raimonds Pauls and Imants Kalniņs were considered as pop icons. As the western records and video tapes entered Latvia, rock, disco and electronic music groups became popular. Despite some restrictions the Latvian music became more western. The Latvian Cinema was making high quality movies every year and artists also enjoyed relative freedom. There was a certain code of “do nots” for the artists, movie directors and the actors, but they received greater state support.

A negative side in the culture was the suppression of the national themes. Nationally driven writers were persecuted by the KGB. Soviets banned any kind of national minority movement. For instance Jews had double feelings about the Soviet power. From one side Soviets rescued them from the Holocaust, from other side any kinds national and cultural movement were suppressed.  Zionist activity was banned, all Jewish cultural life was based around few legal religious congregations. Because of this many Jews emigrated from Soviet Latvia making a bad image on the USSR. Other national minorities suffered from this too.

Education was sufficient, however students had to go through months of boring lectures about Marxist theory. In humanitarian sciences there was a high pressure of the Soviet propaganda and double speak. Books were widely available in Latvian and Russian. Western authors were translated. The youth spent their time in the pioneer movement, all kinds of sport activities were available.  Latvian sportsman brought golden medals from almost every Olympic games.

Meanwhile all that, the corrupt, infective and absurd soviet system was heading for collapse.  Brezhnev decided to do nothing about it since he knew the danger of reforming the totalitarian system. Gorbachev wanted reforms when it was too late. While Brezhnev was slowly sinking in a pool of the marsh, Gorbachev wanted to get out of it fast – in result he was sinking even faster.  And that brought a great chance for Latvia to finally break loose and restore independence.

Selected Sources:

Bleiere, Daina. (2012)Eiropa ārpus Eiropas : dzīve Latvijas PSR. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

Grava-Kreituse, Ilga. (2009) Pagājušo gadu Latvija 1945-1990 : kā dzīvojām, no kā iztikām, ko apsmējām, par ko priecājāmies.Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.

Prikulis, Juris. (Ed) (2012) Starptautiskā konference “Padomju Savienības nodarītie zaudējumi Baltijā”. Padomju Savienības nodarītie zaudējumi Baltijā : Rīgā, 2011. gada 17.-18. jūnijs : starptautiskās konferences materiāli.Rīga : Latvijas Okupācijas izpētes biedrība.

Pavlovičs, Juris. (2012) Padomju Latvijas ikdiena : mūsu vienīgā vakardiena.Rīga : Jumava.

Суворов, Виктор. (2011)  Кузькина мать : хроника великого десятилетия : к 50-летию Карибского кризиса, новое историческое расследование от автора супербестселлеров “Аквариум” и “Ледокол”. Москва : Добрая книга.

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The Evolution of the Soviet Victory Day Celebration. The Cult of the Great Victory

All Soviet Medals for anniversary of the Great Victory from 1965 to 2005

All Soviet Medals for anniversary of the Great Victory from 1965 to 2005

Tomorrow on the streets of Moscow and other capital cities of the former Soviet Union a large military parade will be held commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in May 9 1945. In Riga, Latvia there are no military parades just a large celebration at the Monument of Liberation. Latvian Russian political movements have used this date for their political goals. For last four years the Riga city council has been led by the Russian party Harmony Center that has done a great deal of politicizing this celebration. There are similarities with the March 16 commemoration day of the Latvian SS Legion. While March 16 is  the main mythical date for Latvian nationalists and May 9 is an important date for all who still live with the soviet conciseness. The May 9 Soviet Victory day is artificially made celebration based on Soviet propaganda that made the cult of the Great Victory. Yet in first years after the war nor the soviet people nor the Stalin himself really believed that the victory over Nazi Germany needs to be celebrated.

Despite the fact that Soviet General  Ivan Susloparov had actually signed the capitulation agreement on May 7 at Reims, France that came to power in May 8, Stalin was dissatisfied with this and demanded to make another act of capitulation in Berlin. Because of these Soviets regarded the May 9 as the official end of the World War II.

The soviet Union explained the victory as the superiority of the communist system and the political and the moral unity of the Soviet people with Stalin in the lead. As the radio announced the victory the streets of Moscow rejoiced in celebration. With singing and fireworks from 1000 cannons the May 9 was celebrated with great joy. But, for many is was just sign of relief that the war killed over that more than 26 million Soviet people. In Germany and Poland the repressions and massacre against the German civilians continued for many months. In Latvia the Courland was still under the German control and last shots were fired there.

The Victory parade in Moscow took place on June 24 1945. It was intended that Stalin himself would enter the Red Square on horseback. However, during the practice Stalin fell off the horse and decided to hand him over to Marshal Zhukov. So it was Zhukov who entered the parade. For years this fact has circulated among the historiography and was mentioned even by prominent western historians. While there is a high possibility that Stalin never even took part in the practice as the whole story was made up. For the Cavalry Colonel S. N. Maslov who allegedly choose the horse for Stalin was sentenced in War Tribunal at Germany for 10 years. So he could not choose the horse for Stalin. More significantly this presumably false story was included in Zhukov memoirs. Zhukov memoirs have many false stories many of them not written by himself. So in reality Stalin simply did not want to participate in the parade because he did not consider the outcome of the World War II as truly victorious.

When one American diplomat told Stalin about how grateful for him must be to know that Soviet troops are marching in Berlin, Stalin replied:” Tsar Alexander reached Paris.” There is also another similar quote from Stalin: “This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise. If now there is not a communist government in Paris, this is only because Russia has no an army which can reach Paris in 1945.” This is a well known phrase, but most people only pay attention to the first part of the quote about how far the army goes is how far the soviet power goes. It’s true that communist governments were established in every country that was reached by the Soviet army. But, it seems even the whole Eastern Europe was not enough for him as he wanted to establish a communist government in Paris. The main goal for Stalin and the whole Soviet Union before the WWII was the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. Stalin saw WWII as the clash between Nazis and Capitalist forces, where the Soviet Union at the most advantageous moment could make the most decisive strike. As we know that his plan backfired when Germany attacked the Soviet Union first. Berlin was not enough for Stalin, he wanted Paris and maybe even London or Washington. That is why he did not take any direct part in the parade. Even if there was any incident with the horse it was used as a good excuse not to take part in the parade that was shameful for him.

It was also June 24 when Stalin significantly changed the main accents in the Soviet ideology. In the victory ball Stalin made a toast for the well being of the Russian nation, since it was the greatest of the Soviet nations and deserves the main recognition for her bravery in the war. Ethnic Georgian Stalin unleashed the Russian nationalism at the full scale. All talks of internationalism were forgotten, Russian nation now declared as the main nation in the USSR. On 1943 the old Soviet anthem Internationale was replaced with more patriotic and nationalistic anthem praising the Russian nation. Stalin had acknowledged that his quest for international Soviet republic had failed so he instead restored the traditions of the old Russian Empire.

On June 23 1945 a decree was issued to demobilize older soldiers. Complete demobilization was finished in 1948. About 8,5  million soldiers with them 3,8 invalids went back home. 2, 6 million of invalids were completely unable to regain health and find a new job. 2 million Soviet prisoners of war went home as traitors and cowards. 67% of them had to go through filtration camps for the Soviet power was suspicious if they collaborated with the Germans.

During the last years of Stalin’s rule until 1953, no major celebrations for the Victory day ever took place. Despite the official ideology praised the veterans, they got little attention from the state.  Stalin was afraid from the military elite and in coming years discharged most war generals like Zhukov from top posts. The social payments  for veterans and money for receiving awards were reduced.  No celebrations or holidays took place on May 9.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev seeks to remove Stalin from the soviet historical memory. The campaign to disclose the Stalinist cult was underway and Soviet propaganda now accused Stalin of great losses of 1941 and too much trust on Hitler. However, the main myth of the peaceful policy of the Soviet Union before the WWII remained intact and was improved. Also Nikita Khrushchev had not abandoned the idea of the worldwide socialist revolution. He wanted to achieve with the economical and technical supremacy of the Soviet Union. His plans of outmatching the United States generally failed in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. However, for many years his propaganda of the great future reached by space race and technology shadowed the WWII memories.

On 1965 Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev. Brezhnev understood that reaching the worldwide Soviet supremacy was impossible; instead his policy was to keep the Soviet system stable for many years to come. In such situation a new festivity that would keep the peoples minds busy was needed. So in 26 April 1965 the May 9 was made as an official holiday. Before that official holidays were May 1 and November 7 the October Revolution day. Many books were published, awards and special coins were made, and special monuments were made. The cities that suffered heavy battles were named as the “Hero towns”.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev introduced the Soviet Victory day celebrations

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev introduced the Soviet Victory day celebrations

Leonid Brezhnev formed his own ideology of the Great Victory. The victory was international and the role of the Soviet Army was crucial in the WWII. The victory meant the Soviet supremacy over Nazi and the capitalist system. Also Brezhnev now called all major nations of the USSR including Latvians as the “infinite heroes”.  Also one of the main points was the commemoration and the worship of the war veterans and the war generation. For the cause for what they fought was infinite.

On May 9 1965 an epic, never before seen parade took part in Moscow. After celebrating 20 years of victory such parades were taken every year. The Victory Day became the main argument of legitimacy for the Soviet regime. The Great victory was the main reason for the revolution and the building of communism. The Brezhnev view of history was close to the Stalinist version of history. War films were made in masses. The main basis of WWII history was no longer the war but the victory. The dark side of the war: the great losses of the 1941-1942, GULAG, Stalin’s aggressions before 1941, punishment battalions, the Vlasov Army and the Soviet War crimes was diminished by the myth of the Great Victory. This myth halted the Khrushchev policies for anti-Stalinist, and slowed down calls for democracy. With that the Stalinist terror was also partly justified. There was also another prosaic explanation for this new policy. Brezhnev really liked orders and medals and like to receive them and award others. So such festivity was needed for mass awarding of medals and orders. Brezhnev even got himself awarded with the highest award the Order of Victory that he did not deserve in any way.

The monument of Mother Russia in Volgograd (Stalingrad) one of the distinctive sites of the Victory cult

The monument of Mother Russia in Volgograd (Stalingrad) one of the distinctive sites of the Victory cult

Since then the Victory day celebrations have been routine for the Soviet people. Forgotten veterans now enjoyed social privileges. Veterans and war invalids became a special social group. As the years vent the privileges expanded marking the feeling of social injustice among many. This also made many to became a fake veteran. This people made up their birth dates and biography to get the medals and social status.

In 1985 the Victory Day was still celebrated as usual. In 1990 the common policy was more revisionist, mentioning Stalinist crimes, Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In a social survey in Leningrad 60,8 % people agreed that the Soviet Union had begun a bloody war of conquer. Only 20% disagreed. The myth had collapsed as the Soviet power was now held responsible for the great war losses.

After the complete collapse of the USSR the revision of WWII history continued. However, many still believed that the common people during the Stalin’s era where good and honored and got nothing to with Stalinist crimes. Russian democratic regime canceled the official commemoration of the Soviet past. However, the social difficulties in  Russia the failure of the transformation to capitalist system made communist slogans to reborn again. People again looked for an iron hand to fix their problems and Stalin again was praised in many surveys. The Boris Yeltsin government failed to introduce the Russian society with ideas of national unity and the “Russian Idea”. The problem with the Great Victory was that the Stalinist crimes did not allow to use it in democratic propaganda.

The war veterans united in unions and committees.  In 1995 there were 2,4 million surviving war veterans. Yeltsin celebrated the 50 years of victory in 1995 to boost his re-election campaign. Also because of the war in Chechnya the boost for army was needed. The parade in the Red Square was restored. A Medal of Zhukov was introduced. Yeltsin had given up his desires for democracy and again introduced May 9 as the tool to unify the nation. And it worked because of large mass appraisal. The editor of the newspaper Nezavisimaja Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov called the May 9 as the “unofficial commemoration day of the Soviet Union”.

The traumatic decade of the nighties made many think that the Soviet Union was not so bad, that the greedy statesman was the blame for its collapse. The memories for “good and stable” Brezhnev years again made the Victory day cult rise again. The new president Vladimir Putin sought to restore the good image of Stalin and KGB. And since the Putins reign just as the Brezhnev reign begun with high rise of oil prices that returned stability, the old ways were good again. Also the attitude towards the war in Chechnya also changed from negative to positive.

A new attribute to the May 9 Victory cult was the “George Ribbon”. Taken from the Czarist time ribbon of the Order of St Georgy, the black and orange ribbon became the symbol of the national solidarity. In Czarist times the use of the colors of the St George was only for nobles and awarded officers. The simple mass use of these colors is a degradation of old tradition. On 2005 the celebrations in Moscow hit new heights with massive parades and use of aircraft and rockets. Since the war veterans are slowly depleting in numbers, many think that the Victory day is a day of nostalgic solidarity and commemoration of the great soviet past. As the years pass by the understanding of the WWII events have significantly changed. The young generation is sometimes more fanatical than the old veterans who really faced the war. The biased image of the WWII made by movies, TV documentaries and computer games are causing for young generation to misinterpret the history. The neo-soviet propaganda in Russia is growing. As the Putin’s regime is facing difficulties the pattern of Stalinist revision is making its way. Even if there are great numbers of liberal and educated young Russians, large numbers of Russian youth still worships the victory cult. Even worse a relative number of people who rejects both no-sovietism and liberalism turns to radical nationalism or even Nazism.

Putinist Era propaganda poster for Victory day "I remember I take pride"

Putinist Era propaganda poster for Victory day “I remember I take pride”

In Latvia the May 9, has evolved as the day of protest and day of nostalgia. For some its the way of remembering the Soviet past, for others its a sign of protest against the Latvian democratic system. The Harmony center has failed to enter the government by its own fault for years and uses the Victory day to lure the voters. The movement to remove the Liberation monument where the celebration is held has been active for years. Calls for not using the WWII as a political tool and commemorate the victims on all sides on May 8 has been met with little support.

In the conclusion it must be said that the Soviet Victory day on May 9, was made as the tool of mass control. The struggling Soviet regime was searching for common sign of the Soviet collective identity and found it in the May 9. The main leader of the WW2 Soviet victory Stalin himself did not even want to celebrate his own victory. The cult of the Great Victory was made by people who had small or no experience in war and was made as the only uniting thing for the whole nation. Today as the Russian Federation is struggling to let go of the Soviet past and it has no uniting factor of its own; the Victory day continues to be the main event. It’s a matter of the new generation to finally let go the Stalinist grip and move into the new era.

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Shortwave radio jamming in Soviet Latvia

The American made SCR-399 transmitter was used by Soviets to jam US and Western broadcasts

The American made SCR-399 transmitter was used by Soviets to jam US and Western broadcasts

Radio is one of the most effective ways of communication. The information that travels around the airwaves can reach even the most remote places. In late 20 century twenties it was discovered that by transmitting in High Frequency band (1,6 Mhz-30 Mhz) or so-called shortwave the signal can reach every radio receiver in faraway countries. In so the shortwave radio became effective way for government propaganda. And regimes that disliked that their citizens can listen to foreign broadcasts searched for ways how stop this.

During the first Soviet occupation in 1941, the Soviets started the registration of the radio owners. They wanted to know how many and what kind of people could listen to foreign broadcasts, and impose license fees for radio using and in case of need take them away from the owner. During the Nazi Germany occupation a list of suppressed radio stations was made.

In 1945 the Soviet occupation returned. Everywhere in Latvia people gathered at their radio receivers and waited for the news of coming American and British liberation, however soon the frequencies of the foreign stations became filled with load roaring noise. The era of the Soviet radio jamming had begun.

On 1946 USSR Communications ministry issued an order to register the radio receiver in whole country. On the streets of the cities and main squares loudspeakers were placed to transmit the propaganda from radio stations from Riga and Moscow. It was nearly impossible to purchase the radio receiver after the war, so the radio transmission points were placed in the apartments. It had strategic goal because now the government could inform the people about its decisions and orders.

As the Cold War became more intense the Western countries begun to transmit broadcasts to Soviet Union in various languages including Latvian.  The main broadcasters were the Voice of America, BBC Word Service, Deutche Welle and Radio Free Europe. Radio Free Europe was actually a creation of the US Central Intelligence Agency. CIA secretly financed the RFE for many years until it was discovered by the leftist journalists in 1967 and since 1972 the RFE is financed by the US Congress. USSR also had its own shortwave propaganda station Radio Moscow. However, in Western countries listening to the Soviet propaganda was not considered as a serious crime. In Soviet Union listening to Western stations could cause a real jail sentence.

For instance in 1951 Elfida Jansone was put on LSSR High Court for listening to the Voice of America. For this crime she was sentenced for eight years in labor camp. In 1948 the Latvian Communist party Riga city committee bureau issued a decree “For urgent actions for jamming of the anti-soviet broadcasts”. The decree ordered every institution that had a shortwave transmitter to jam the foreign radio stations. Jamming was done by Latvian Energy, Sea Fleet and Soviet Army. Army constructed 10 transmitters that jammed the foreign voices 24 hours in day. However, the power of these transmitters was too weak to completely silence the foreign broadcasts. Because of this in all three occupied Baltic States a special jamming stations were built.

On May 5 1951 the chairman of the LSSR Council of Ministers Vilis Lācis wrote a note to Vyacheslav Molotov that in accordance to USSR Council of Ministers decree on 4 December 1950, a high voltage radio center was to be built in Riga; however the Ministry of Communications had planned to build it only in 1953. The head of the LSSR asked the Soviet Ministry of Communications to start building this object already in 1951 and finish it in 1952. However, the slow Soviet bureaucracy only in 1953 ordered to build jamming systems in the Baltic States. A jammer was built in Liepaja, Daugavpils and Riga.

The order by the Soviet Council of Ministers to build shortwave radio jammers in Latvia

The order by the Soviet Council of Ministers to build shortwave radio jammers in Latvia

All of these special objects were under control of the Latvia republican radio center. American made shortwave transmitter SCR-399 that was delivered by the US in war-time was now used to jam the US broadcasts. The power of these transmitters was not high – only 400 watts however it operated in the 1,5- 1,8 Mhz frequency range that used by the most foreign stations. The object in Liepaja has 12 transmitters and one Russian “Extra” type Medium Wave transmitter (Medium Wave is 526-1600 kHz). In the Riga object at the Dome Square basement had 18 SCR-399 transmitters but at other Riga site 15 Soviet KV-5 transmitters with power of 5 kilowatts were placed.  The transmitters were modified with GMD generator that was the most secret part in the objects. This device made various tone sound signal that was nicknamed “saw” by the listeners. It was impossible to filter this noise because its frequency was the same as the broadcasting foreign station. It even made interference in frequencies free from broadcasts. It was a hard time for people living near the jamming stations because the strong signal made inference for allowed radio and TV broadcasts. Before the start of every broadcast one or even two transmitters were allocated to the broadcast frequency and after the command was given the jammer were turned on. Sometimes the in the time of broadcast the stations slightly changed the frequency, leaving the jammer in behind, forcing to retune it. The radio propagation issues also sometimes did not allow silencing the broadcasts completely.

The Medium Wave broadcasts were completely jammed by stations from Lithuania and Estonia. Sometimes the foreign broadcasters appeared at previously unannounced frequencies and the jammer power was not so high so the ordinary Soviet citizen could listen to them.

Despite the warnings and repressions, people listened to foreign broadcasters. Some were tired of the Soviet propaganda, some were just curious. Some understood that they lived behind the Iron Curtain and had enough of censorship and lies. The Latvian radio receiver producers VEF and Radiotehnika were forced to make receivers without the frequency ranges where the foreign broadcasters appeared. The listeners of these stations were reported by the work colleges, neighbors even relatives. While nobody was thrown in the prison since the death of Stalin, being caught of listening to “hateful anti-soviet propaganda” could mean job loss and further sanctions.

Not every foreign broadcaster was considered anti-soviet, as there were many broadcasters from Soviet-friendly countries. The main condemned broadcasts came from Western Europe and US.

The Soviet spy agency KGB tracked the radio listening. It had many radio control points over all country. In 1982 the KGB was even ordered to track the Ultra High Frequency ranges at 30 km zones around the cities. The main ones who were tracked in this range were radio amateurs. In Soviet times every radio amateur was under the KGB watch. The Soviet Military intelligence service GRU installed a mobile tracking and surveillance base in Riga that could listen and record the telephone conversations. After the fall of the Soviet Union the GRU offered to sell these devices to Latvian government.

The shortwave radio jamming in Soviet Union ended when the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ordered to stop the “useless spending of money”. Shortwave radio jamming is still practiced by many countries like China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam. As long there will be a need for political information the shortwave radios and its jammers will not disappear.

Selected Sources:

Upmalis, Ilgonis, Tiglass, Ēriks, Stankēvičs, Ēriks. (2011) Latvija padomju militāristu varā : 1939-1999.Rīga: Latvijas okupācijas izpētes biedrība.

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Latvia – Soviet War Base 1944-1994

The map showing locations of the Soviet war bases in Latvia at late eighties

The map showing locations of the Soviet war bases in Latvia at late eighties

Latvia  first became home to  Soviet forces in 1939 when first 24 thousand men established a garrison in Courland region. After complete occupation of Latvia in 1940 the actions of the Soviet armed forces became unrestricted. In 1944 the Soviet Army returned to Latvia. After the end of the war following the path to absolute militarization and arms race, Latvia was now under full Soviet military grip. Army bases, naval ports, radio bases and even nuclear rocket launch pads were all around Latvia. The large concentration of the Soviet military industrial complex did a significant damage to Latvian economy and demographics after the regain of independence.

The outcome of the World War II did not satisfy the needs of the leaders of the Soviet Union, as the World Socialist revolution was still not achieved. Soviet Union had taken over Eastern Europe, gained influence over the Middle East and China and South Asia. However, when an American diplomat who remarked to Stalin of how grateful for him is to see the Soviets troops in Berlin the Stalin replayed: “Tsar Alexander reached Paris.” That showed that Stalin aspired for something more and the very quest for world dominance was not still abandoned. But, now Soviet Union met a strong opponent the United States of America, armed with nuclear weapons and great resources. Soviets issued a statement that they wont be the first to start the World War III, and started the complete militarization of the country to prepare for this war.

Since Soviet Union was able to extend their field of action far from its borders, by forming the Warsaw Pact and adding Soviet bases in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the Baltic States were added to second role in the theater of war. In case of the Soviet victory the Baltic States would suit as the main base for weapons maintenance and supply reserves. In case of defeat the Baltic States would be the retreat route. Because of that in the Baltic States there were no factories that produced the military vehicles and aircraft.

In the first years of the Cold war the Allies sent a covert missions to Latvia to support the local resistance movement. Latvian National partisans fought the uneven battle with the Soviet forces until 1956. Soviets last 20 thousand man in the process, but the Latvian national resistance was crushed. To prevent any breach of the Soviet border, the whole coast of the Baltic Sea was turned into “border area” including the city of Liepaja and Ventspils. People were deported from the close to sea areas, ending the century long fisherman village traditions. Airfields were placed at Ezere, Vaiņode, Liepāja, Medze and Ventspils.

In 29 August 1949 the Soviets did first successful nuclear weapons test. Only in 1992 the Soviet scientist Yulii Khariton, one of the main developers of the Soviet nuclear bomb admitted that the first soviet nuke was made according to stolen American blueprints. Soviets needed special carriers to deliver nukes to their targets – airplanes and rockets. The range of the first rockets was small, and they were placed along the borders of the Warsaw pact. The coast of the Baltic sea was defended with “land to air” anti-aircraft rockets.

The hangar of the Zeltini nuclear rocket base near Alūksne

The hangar of the Zeltini nuclear rocket base near Alūksne

Six years after first Soviet nuke test in 1955 at Alūksne, Bārta, Vaiņode first nuclear rockets were placed. On 1957 in Mārciena near the hill of Gaiziņkalns – the highest point in Latvia, a buildup for nuclear base started. A concrete supply road was built because the first rockets were heavy and needed either railroad or special concrete roads. However, it was discovered that in 1961 Soviet colonel Oleg Penkovsky had delivered the secret locations of the Soviet long distance rocket bases to UK and USA. As the secrecy was blown, the rockets were moved away to another places and Mārciena was abandoned. Luckily for Latvia since it was densely populated no nuclear tests were never made here.

In 1960 the US espionage high altitude plane U-2 was shot down over the skies of the Soviet Union. Before that it was the only way how to spy on the Soviet bases. Now when the Soviets were capable of intercepting and destroying then space race begun. Both countries started to make spy satellites, that could find and monitor the secret nuclear bases with ease.

Because of that a radio location system was needed. In 1960 the town of Skrunda in Courland region was allocated for secret radio station “Dnepr”. Also in the forest of Irbene near the Baltic Sea the Signals Intelligence Base was built to track and decode the Allied Satellite signals.

Latvia was also home to the Soviet Baltic War Fleet. Liepāja War Port that was already used in Czarist times, became home to Soviet war ships, rocket ships and submarines. In 1988 the Soviet War Fleet command made gigantic mistake, by detonating 440 WWII era aviation bombs filled with phosphorus. Such bombs can only be dissembled and the phosphorus must be either melted or burned. Instead the bombs were detonated in the Baltic sea cape zone spreading large areas of the Baltic Sea with parts of phosphorus.  When entering water the phosphorous takes form similar to amber. When locals or tourists while looking for real amber picks up the phosphorus and places it in their pockets, the phosphorus heats up leaving deep wounds. The Soviet Authorities took no responsibility for this mess.

The Soviet Submarines at Liepāja War Port

The Soviet Submarines at Liepāja War Port

Latvia was home to numerous factories with goal to maintain and fix the Soviet war equipment, vehicles and aircraft. Even the Latvian civil factories were subjected to assist the Soviet industrial military complex, large part of their production were allocated to military needs. Cekule, Garkalne, Inčukalns, Mangaļsala were Soviet arms depots filled with mines, reactive weapons and ordinary equipment just in case of war. Airfields were many locations: Liepāja, Tukums, Vaiņode, Jelgava, Lielvārde, Jēkabpils and other places. Strategical rockets were placed in many places notably Zeltiņi near Alūksne. With such large concentration of the Soviet forces in case of the nuclear strike Latvia would be wiped from the face of the earth.

Soviets took away large plots of land from the local farmers to build their bases. Many spaces were polluted. The infamous Zvārde firing ground was for years used for the Soviet aviation tests. Even today the areas around Zvārde are dangerous because of the blind shells hidden in the ground. At the Tukums Airfield nuclear weapons were placed and kept until the fall of the Soviet Union. Also the pollution from the chemical weapons are present at some places.

After the fall of the Soviet Union the Soviet Army now Armed forces of the Russian Federation slowly unwillingly left Latvia. The process of talks between Latvia and Russia about the withdrawal of the ex-Soviet armed forces lasted until 1994 when Latvia became completely free from the grip of Russian military. However, the army bases they left became abandoned, looted and forgotten. Few of them are to use now. Latvian government made a gigantic mistake by destroying the unfinished Skrunda Radio Locator Antenna Tower, for it could be used for numerous purposes including science. Thankfully the two large parabolic radio telescopic antennas stationed at Irbene escaped the same fate, as the head of the Latvian-Russian talks historian and diplomat Mārtiņš Virsis recommended to destroy them also. Because of the protests by the scientists the radio telescopes were spared and now serves as space science center. Some deserted Soviet airfields in Tukums and Jēkabpils are now used for civil means. The nuclear rocket base in Zeltiņi are used as a tourist attraction. The fortress in Daugavpils are used for museums.

The abandoned building in Mārciena rocket base

The abandoned building in Mārciena rocket base

One part of the Soviet military heritage that still dwells in Latvia are families of the old demobilized Soviet officers. After the end of the military service they choose to stay in Latvia, bringing their families. After the fall of the Soviet Union the Latvian state could not find legal means to deport them back to Russia, as Russia itself refused to allow so. Russia has not repaid the losses done by the Soviet military during the occupation. The losses include pollution, effects on human health, the collapse of Latvian civil industry and the demographic changes. These losses will probably never be repaid by Russia, at least not by current government, and Latvia needs to move on and repair these losses by themselves.

Selected Sources:

Upmalis, Ilgonis.(2012) Latvia – USSR military base : 1939-1998: materials and documents on the Soviet army’s presence in and withdrawal from Latvia. Riga : Zelta Grauds.

Upmalis, Ilgonis, Tiglass, Ēriks, Stankēvičs, Ēriks. (2011) Latvija padomju militāristu varā : 1939-1999.Rīga: Latvijas okupācijas izpētes biedrība.

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