The Warsaw Pact, the Soviet-led military alliance set up to counter NATO 35 years ago, passed out of existence in a simple ceremony in the Soviet capital.

"Commander in chief of the Warsaw Treaty united armed forces Pyotr Lushev and chief of staff Vladimir Lobov surrendered their powers," the official Tass agency said Sunday. With that simple formality, "the Warsaw Treaty Military structures ended their activities today," Tass said.The Warsaw Pact will continue in name, but the military alliance, the original raison d'etre of the grouping, is gone. Moscow has expressed hope that bilateral ties can go on.

The eight-nation pact had for all intents and purposes lost its reason for being last year when its East European members were allowed to choose non-Communist rule.

The decision to disband the Warsaw Treaty military bodies and structures by March 31 was taken in Budapest, Hungary last February.

The multilateral military alliance was born May 14, 1955, when the Soviet Union and its seven Eastern European satellites signed the Treaty of Warsaw. The signatories were the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Albania.

East Germany, which was the lynchpin of the alliance, has itself ceased to exist as a separate state, although 300,000 Soviet soldiers remain in what is now united Germany.