Russia's antimissile early warning radar at Skrunda, Latvia, shut down yesterday in accordance with the 1994 bilateral agreement. Skrunda was the last remaining Russian military installation in the Baltic states, a relic of the Soviet occupation. President Guntis Ulmanis said in a special statement that the event "marks the final departure of a foreign army which had come here uninvited and unwanted". Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs in turn remarked that "World War II has ended for us today."
Coincidentally, Lithuania celebrates today the Day of Freedom--the fifth anniversary of the exit of the last Russian troops from Lithuania. The troops had entered the three Baltic states in 1939.
Russia is obligated to dismantle the equipment and evacuate the some 800 military personnel from Skrunda starting September 1. It has until February 2000 to complete the removal. The operation will be monitored by both OSCE experts and Latvian authorities. (BNS, Radio Riga, August 31)
Russia leased Skrunda in 1994 for four years. As the closure deadline approached, Russia's Foreign Ministry and the military sounded out Latvia about a possible extension of the lease. Moscow offered Latvia nondiscriminatory trade status in return. Latvia turned down the suggestions, the most recent of which came from Moscow barely three weeks ago. (Background in the Monitor, February 13, 20, and 23 and August 10)
LUKASHENKA EMBRACES VIETNAM.