Any Barracks for Ivan?
Soviet troops pulled from East Europe return to a housing shortage
'IN Eastern Europe, every one of us had his own individual apartment, but here ... ?" This is the complaint of Lt. Col. Mikhail Druzhinin, a Soviet tank crew member who was withdrawn from Hungary last year and is stationed in Byelorussia.The Soviet government has long known that housing would be one of the main problems in repatriating troops from Eastern Europe. But construction of new units has been hampered by international disputes, internal mismanagement, budget cuts, and incessant feuding between central and local authorities. As a result, living conditions of resettled troops are miserable, and the answer to Druzhinin's question is becoming increasingly clear. During negotiations on troop withdrawal last fall, housing was one area in which Germany agreed to help with Soviet resettlement. More than half of the $8.8 billion financial aid pledged by Germany was earmarked for the construction of 36,000 apartments for some of the 350,000 homecoming Soviet servicemen and their families. Bonn allocated the funds on the assumption that German contractors would be hired, buttressing industry and employment. Moscow organized an international competition to award the construction contracts in accordance with strict market principles, and a low-bidding Finnish-Turkish consortium was selected. The Soviets rejected German proposals, some of which were 100 percent more expensive. The Soviet selection process led to a controversy that soured bilateral relations. Bonn threatened to block its financing, and construction was delayed. But the Soviets have considerable leverage of their own: Troop withdrawals could easily be slowed, as happened last year, until proper living conditions are ensured for the resettling troops. The Germans, for their part, are in the difficult position of wishing to be rid of unpopular occupying forces while also trying to develop good trade and political relations with their powerful neighbor. As a result, an agreement was finally reached last month in which the German government pressured its contractors to lower their bids while the Soviet government awarded them a 60 percent share of the construction of the first 3,700 apartments. The Finnish-Turkish consortium will handle the remaining portion of the contract. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who wants Germany to be the Soviet Union's "first-class partner," has said he would be willing to increase German aid to ensure that the scheduled Soviet troo p withdrawal set for 1994 takes place. United States firms have also agreed to build a plant near Moscow that is expected to produce 15,000 houses a year, two-thirds of which would be used for servicemen. Such direct foreign investment should be facilitated by the new Union Treaty, which permits direct contacts between investors and local authorities. Soviet demand for housing is so great, however, that foreign investment and assistance will not suffice. "Today, over 200,000 families of cadre servicemen in the Army have nowhere to live," says Gen. Konstantin Kochetov, first deputy defense minister. This number includes veterans from Afghanistan and troops pulled out from Mongolia and various third-world countries. An additional 100,000 returning from Germany and Poland are expected to join the ranks of inadequately housed military personnel before the end of 1994. Although its own housing construction has trebled since 1986, the Soviet Defense Ministry appears at a loss over how to cope with this crisis. Ironically, a restructuring plan put forth by Chief of Staff General Moiseyev last November proposed a significant reduction in the overall number of military construction personnel. With territorial security still a priority of the Soviet high command, noncombat troops are the first to be eliminated in defense spending cuts. Little consideration seems to have been given to the possibility of using this specialized labor force to help abate the housing shortage. As the first division to return from Hungary, the Nikolaevski-Budapest Tank Division settled in Vitebsk, Byelorussia. They took over the quarters of a disbanded division and were therefore able to benefit from the use of existing facilities. Given the nationwide housing shortage, however, all families of the disbanded unit have been forced to remain in Vitebsk. More than a quarter of the "Hungarian" division's families live in tents despite winter temperatures ranging as low as 30 degrees below zero. Lack of housing is but one of the bitter adjustments for troops returning from Eastern Europe. A lack of hot water, common throughout the Soviet Union, has also come as a shock to soldiers used to a quasi-Western style of life. One officer nostalgically recalls immaculate Hungarian automatic boilers that provided thousands of families and all of the division's soldiers with heat and hot water. The Vitebsk garrison has 25 "prehistoric" coal-operated boilers, he says. Deficient housing, menial work instead of military drills, and local resentment directed against the returnees all contribute to low morale. If basic living conditions do not improve soon, the trend toward extreme conservatism already prevalent among officers may begin to spread within the ranks.