Balts rejoice as Russian troops depart

The Associated Press

TALLINN, Estonia — The floors have been torn up, the radiators ripped out and everything else that could be stripped, knocked down or unbolted from barracks here is already headed east.

But the legacy left as Russian troops complete their withdrawal from the Baltic republics this week will not dissipate so easily.

“Russia’s military occupation has cost us so much, so many lives,” Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar told the Associated Press. “Many people will just sit and contemplate” on Thursday, after the last soldier has left.

Baltic leaders say the withdrawal marks the real end of World War II for their nations, occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.

It will also close an era in which thousands of Balts were deported to Siberia and, Balts charge, the Russian military devastated the environment in the three republics hugging the Baltic Sea coast.

Bells will ring throughout the Baltics on Thursday and fireworks and concerts, including one at an abandoned Russian base, are scheduled in both Estonia and Latvia.

The Russians pulled out of Lithuania last year.

In contrast to the Russian pullout from Germany this week, the Kremlin’s troops are leaving the Baltics without fanfare to mark the end of their 54-year presence in the region.

“The withdrawal looks like a sad event for Russia,” Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said Monday. “For us, it’s a happy event.”

Troops are taking everything they can with them, leaving behind gutted shells of barracks. They have stripped their bases of floors, windows, radiators, telephones and furniture as well as military equipment.

“We’ve been loading these trains for two days straight,” Capt. Ruslan Makarenko said, as he shouted orders at a dozen young soldiers beside the last troop train in Estonia.

Inside a barrack at the Klooga military base 18 miles west of Tallinn, the only thing left behind was a pile of torn, crumpled books by Marx and Lenin.

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