Foreign and defense ministers of the once mighty Warsaw Pact signed a historic agreement Monday formalizing the end of the alliance's defunct military functions by March 31, Hungarian state radio said.
The officials from the six alliance nations - the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania - met in Budapest at a hotel on the banks of the river Danube.Czechoslovak Defense Minister Lubos Dobrovsky, before entering the one-day meeting, told reporters, "a new era is beginning."
Several hours later, the state radio reported the agreement had been signed.
The agreement formalized the end of 35 years of military cooperation, sealing Eastern Europe's break with Soviet domination.
Besides signing the documents, the ministers could reveal some of history's best-kept secrets: the unpublished accords that kept their countries bound in a powerful pact.
For decades, the Warsaw Pact and NATO faced off in Europe with their mighty arsenals.
Warsaw Pact troops never attacked their Cold War enemies in NATO. But they intervened in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968 to crush Hungarian and Czechoslovak anti-communist uprisings.
But revolutions throughout Eastern Europe in late 1989 overturned communist rule there and essentially ended any chance those nations would act in concert with the Soviets.
"The Warsaw Pact is now a piece of fiction," Hungary's Andras Hegedues, the last surviving premier to have signed the Pact, said late last year. "The military command no longer has an army at its disposal. . . . It's a group of generals without soldiers."
Experts meeting Sunday agreed to end any military cooperation by March 31, as Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had suggested to East European leaders earlier this month.