Russia, Latvia Agree on Troop Withdrawal
MOSCOW (AP) _ After two years of often difficult talks, Russian and Latvian officials reached agreement Tuesday on withdrawing the last Russian troops from the Baltic country by the end of August.
In exchange for withdrawing its last 12,000 soldiers, Latvia will allow Russia to keep its radar station at Skrunda for four more years and will guarantee the rights of retired Russian officers living in Latvia.
The Latvian talks had stalled over Russia’s demand to keep the big Skrunda radar base, about 90 miles west of the Latvian capital Riga, until 2000.
Chief Russian delegate Sergei Zotov praised Tuesday’s agreement as a ″victory of common sense.″ The presidents of Russia and Latvia could sign the agreement as early as April, he said.
Annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, Latvia and its Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania won independence in 1991. More than 130,000 former Soviet troops have been withdrawn from the three Baltic nations since then, but only Lithuania is completely free of Russian soldiers.
The issue of retired Russian officers still hamstrings Russia’s talks with Estonia on withdrawing 3,000 remaining Russian troops. Estonia’s foreign ministry said Tuesday another round of talks will be held in April.