MOSCOW — There was little breast-beating. No moaning about strategic territory lost. Russia's equanimity on Wednesday as it watched what some here call "The Great Retreat" pointed up just how deeply the Kremlin's foreign and military doctrine have changed since the Cold War.
With only a few spasms of nostalgia, Moscow marched away from the German bases that for decades served as the beefed-up vanguard for a possible land war in Europe. President Boris N. Yeltsin called the Russian withdrawal "natural."
Only the final pullout from the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia raised hackles here, and that was not because of the land but because of the people left behind.
"The geopolitical situation has changed radically and there is no more threat from the West," said Sergei Blagovolin, a top Russian national security analyst. "But I am really worried about the uncertainty of the fate of the Russians left in the Baltics."
The scenarios that most concern Moscow's strategic planners do not focus on East-West war these days, but rather on potential threats to Russians in other former Soviet republics that could force Moscow, still a nuclear-armed colossus with nearly 2 million troops, to intervene.
Russia, according to its 1994 military doctrine, has no enemies. But, as Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev put it, "It has its vital interests. We are ready to defend them and we are capable of doing this," even if that involves stepping over the border.
There is little of the black-and-white clarity of the Cold War here, more of the murkiness of the era that follows. But as vital interests are being defined, they appear to boil down to defending rights of Russians in the "near-abroad"--former Soviet republics--and maintaining powerful Russian clout while seeking stability throughout the former Soviet Union.
Latvia and Estonia, where sizable Russian minorities have been denied full citizenship rights, may be just the tinderbox Moscow fears.
Imagine this scenario, said Dmitry Evstafiev, a military analyst at the prestigious USA-Canada Institute in Moscow. With the last Russian soldier gone, Baltic parliaments refuse to ratify agreements with Moscow to play fair with their Russian populations and instead appear to prepare for "ethnic cleansing" in heavily Russian areas.
Yeltsin's political opponents "call to sweep the Baltics into the sea," Evstafiev projected further. "Yeltsin puts the troops of the Leningrad military district on alert, international pressure doesn't help. . . . " And large-scale confrontation results.
That, of course, is a far-fetched, worst-case scenario. But it seems far likelier now than a European land war. The 25 million Russians who ended up in the "near-abroad" are the only foreign policy issue that has real political resonance here. And many Russians are feeling decidedly hostile toward the Baltics, Evstafiev noted.
But aside from the potential tensions there, Russia's strategic view has narrowed to the point that the other top concerns stemming from the Great Retreat are mainly domestic.
First on the list is the shortage of housing for returning officers and of military infrastructure for troops, some of whom have reportedly found themselves newly deployed in empty fields. Estimates vary, but apparently 50,000 officers' families have no apartments in Russia.
"It is very likely that the slowness in addressing the housing issue will eventually lead to open discontent among officers when the troops withdrawn from the Baltics and Germany arrive here," Col. Yuri Deryugin, a military sociologist, wrote last week in Nezivisimaya Gazeta.
He predicted eventual "social upheaval" in the Russian armed forces. He noted that the Great Retreat would worsen tensions in the army, not only because of housing problems, but because of a special virus that the soldiers from Germany are carrying: virulent military corruption.
As Russian and German sources describe them, soldiers returning from Germany have been corrupted to the toes of their boots--if they haven't sold them yet. They reportedly engaged in rackets ranging from selling off duty-free cigarettes to hawking arms to neo-Nazis. The corruption is believed to have penetrated even to the top brass of what was known as the Western Group of Forces.
Now these bootleggers are returning home--and Deryugin warned that a "military commercial clan" may now be unleashed on the army.
If the withdrawal is sounding few alarms otherwise, that is because Russia, as it has defined its new interests, is looking largely south and east for new threats to itself.
Russia retains bases or facilities in almost all the former Soviet republics. Ukraine remains a particular source of anxiety, because of the restive Russian population of the Crimea and because of the chance of eventual civil war between its Russian-leaning east and Ukrainian nationalists in the west.
In the Caucasus and Central Asia, Russia is especially assertive about maintaining its troop presence, usually arguing that it must preserve order near its borders.
Many Caucasus politicians, particularly in Georgia and Azerbaijan, believe that Russia purposely foments conflicts in areas where it wants an excuse to bring in forces.
In their view, Russia may be ending its half-century occupation of Eastern Europe and the Baltics, but its dominion in the south has lasted centuries and will not prove so transient.