Against the backdrop of World War Two and the Cold War, the Soviet Union embarked on a programme of rapid military expansion outside of its borders. In addition to encompassing swathes of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Soviet Union had military bases across the world including in Egypt, Afghanistan, Vietnam and China.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it splintered into 15 independent nations and its presence was removed from many of its global military bases. Today, these abandoned bases act as an eerie reminder of the power, influence and image of the Soviet Union.
Here’s a collection of photos of former Soviet bases around the globe.
After World War Two, the Soviet Union took over the military bases and town of Borne Sulinowo in Poland and established one of the biggest military camps in Poland. The town was erased from all maps, with Soviet work and occupation remaining a secret for 50 years.
Russian forces withdrew from the area in 1992 and the town officially became a part of Poland.
Irbene was a purpose-built settlement for Soviet military officers and their families. Located in Latvia and built in 1971, Irbene was used as a secret radar centre. The base included shops, a school and a sports hall. Due to the secret nature of its work, Irbene was not included on any map and only those with a special permit could visit. The town was abandoned in 1993.
Due to its location in Germany, Vogelsang was an important strategic location for the Soviet Union and a barracks was established there in 1952. The town was built in the woods and was capable of housing 15,000 military personnel and their families. Vogelsang was the third-largest Soviet base in East Germany. The base was equipped with 12 nuclear missiles in 1959.
The barracks were self-contained and included a sports hall, theatre, shops, a school and a hospital. In 1994, Russian troops withdrew from the site and the town was partially demolished. Today, parts of the barracks have been left to decay and visits to the site are restricted due to the ammunition residues in the soil.
Skrunda military base was built in 1963 to hold 2 Dnepr radars (early Soviet space surveillance and early warning radars). These radars covered most of Western Europe and were important to the Soviet Union as they would track any possible incoming missiles or objects in space.
As with many Soviet Bases, Skrunda was self-sufficient and included many amenities and activities to keep the residents occupied.
An agreement was signed between Latvia and Russia in 1994 that stated that Russia would be allowed to continue to use Skrunda for 4 years but then it must dismantle the base by 29 February 2000. In 1998, Russian troops left the town and took everything of value with them. The buildings were left to fall. In 2015, the site was bought by Skrunda Municipality for use as a military training ground. From 2016-2018, the site welcomed tourists.
Plokstine, in Lithuania, was the Soviet Union’s first nuclear missile base. In September 1960, the Soviet Union began a rapid construction programme of Plokstine after learning that the US was building underground military bases. Its location in a remote forest and its network of underground tunnels meant that the base became one of the Soviet Union’s top military secrets (a US reconnaissance in 1978 revealed its existence). The base’s location meant that its missiles, if launched, could reach all of Europe.
The base was abandoned 12 years after it opened and was left to fall apart. In 2012, the Cold War Museum opened in the base.
At the outset of the Cold War, Stalin issued secret orders to build a submarine base in case of a retaliatory nuclear strike against the US. Balaklava in Crimea was selected as it was quiet, close to the naval base at Sevastopol and had an inlet that provided natural protection. Completed in 1961, the complex was built to survive a nuclear blast and included tunnels, water channels, warehouses and dry docks.
Abandoned in 1993, the site was handed over to Ukraine in 2000. Today the complex holds a naval museum and a museum dedicated to the Crimean War.
Karosta has had a naval base since 1890. During the Soviet occupation of Latvia, the base and town surrounding it were closed off and it was used as a base for the Soviet Baltic Fleet. After the site was abandoned, the buildings fell into the sea and now litter the coast.
Dotted across Russia and former Soviet countries are abandoned military vehicles and aircraft. They act as reminders of the military power of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union built aerodromes on Franz Joseph Island due to its strategic significance and blocked off access to all other countries. The base on Graham Bell Island was abandoned in the 1990s and the crashed plane was left there.