Jan. 15, 1994:
Eastern Bloc countries grant overflight rights
Twenty years ago, three former communist countries authorized overflight rights to a U.S. Air Force unit. That unit flew F-16 Fighting Falcons and was stationed in Germany. Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria authorized the overflight.
The F-16s were deploying to Turkey. It was the first time since World War II, 49 years earlier, that U.S. military aircraft had flown an operational mission over those countries. A number of factors brought about that change of policy.
At the end of World War II, our ally, the United Soviet Socialist Republic, controlled the lands east of what became West Germany. The USSR was also known as the Soviet Union. After the war, the British, French and Americans helped Western European countries set up representative forms of government.
Joseph Stalin’s Soviets set up communistic governments in Eastern Europe. Some of those governments were little more than puppets of Stalin’s regime. Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria were three of the eight Eastern European countries. The Soviets only allowed three narrow flight corridors to West Berlin, Germany. They denied United States’ military overflight of all other Eastern Bloc countries.
Stalin had good reason to want a divided Germany and a buffer from the Germans. During his adult lifetime, Germany invaded the Soviet Union twice. Between the two wars, the Soviet Union lost more than 25 million people. While Stalin may have killed more than that during his various purges, he could not forgive or forget the betrayal by his former ally, Hitler. Hitler’s German invasion of the Soviet Union in the spring of 1942 came as a complete surprise to Stalin. Stalin’s successors continued his policies of having a buffer and denying overflight.
Then in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Shortly after, Eastern Europe broke away from the Soviet Union. In 1990, the Soviet republics began to break away from the Soviet Union. As a result, the early 1990s were a time of transition for the United States military.
In August 1990, Operation Desert Shield began and was followed in January and February with Operation Desert Storm. That operation liberated Kuwait. In April 1991, Operation Provide Comfort began. The allies defended the Kurdish people fleeing their homes in northern Iraq. It was followed immediately by Operation Provide Comfort II. That operation protected the Kurds in northern Iraq from the Iraqi regime. Primarily, the two Kurdish operations were based out of Turkey.
On Christmas Day, 1991, officials declared the USSR dissolved. In late 1993, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization created a new program. That program was Partnership for Peace. The objective of the program was to build trust. The program officially began at the Jan. 10 and 11, 1994, NATO summit. The program also provided an avenue for former Eastern Bloc countries to join NATO. When Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria granted overflight rights, it was one of their first steps on the path to full NATO membership.