TALLINN, Aug. 30 -- The final Russian military pullout from Estonia hit a snag Tuesday after Russian troops left but Estonia balked at signing a takeover accord at a navy base headquarters because of the awful state of the installation left by the Russians in the former Soviet Baltic republic. Despite the last minute hitch, Estonia took physical control of facilities which were seized by the Red Army when the Soviet Union annexed the Baltics in 1940. Estonia has struggled for the three years of its regained independence to evict the Russians and get full control of the bases. Most Russian troops left Estonia before Wednesday's deadline, but a few hundred stragglers were still on their way out Tuesday as Russia closed out a long, and for Estonia unpleasant, era in Moscow's relations with the Baltics. Russian troops were also leaving neighboring Latvia, departing under the same cloud and the same deadline. Separate accords ended half a century of Soviet military occupation, though Russian soldiers stayed on because Moscow had nowhere to put them and because Russian politicians used their presence as leverage in seeking residency and citizenship rights for the large Russian minority that settled in the Baltics while they were under Moscow's control. While the Russian military exodus was in its final stages in the Baltics, Russian President Boris Yeltsin flew to Berlin to celebrate the Russian withdrawal from eastern Germany. But unlike Germany, there was no big celebration in the Baltics -- at least not on the Russian side.
The Estonians -- once the Russians were gone for good Wednesday -- planned concerts, speeches, outdoor festivities and fireworks to mark the occasion. 'The Russians have never given us precise statistics about the troops, but clearly most of the bases are empty now and we expect all the active troops to be gone by August 31,' said Mary-Anne Rikken, spokeswoman for the Estonian Foreign Ministry. Amari airfield was turned over Monday. Tondi barracks and the Russian Navy base's Tallinn headquarters were relinquished Tuesday. A group of 195 Russian civilian specialists were allowed to remain at the Paldiski submarine base to oversee the dismantling of the nuclear reactors there. But at the Russian navy's Tallinn headquarters, even as the Estonian army took physical control, Estonian officials refused to sign the transfer documents, complaining that the Russians had ripped out electricity meters and it would be impossible to determine how much the Russian military owed for power. A new signing ceremony was hastily arranged for Wednesday, based on the assumption that the two sides could sort out the problem. Elsewhere at the Tallinn site being abandoned by the Russians, things were a mess, in a dilapidated state, showing either decay or perhaps dilberate abuse. Furniture was broken; the facilities appeared as if they had been vandalized; stairways were in a state of collapse; garbage was strewn about; and a wall map had Estonia carved out. The Estonian side was solemn -- perhaps waiting to celebrate until later when the unwanted Russians were gone or because of the wretched state of the facilities they were inheriting after so stridently fighting to obtain them. Estonian Defense Ministry spokesman Juri Tohvri said the small country's small military was uncertain what it would do with its Russian military real estate inheritance. He noted that Estonia had little money to keep up the premises and suggested they may deteriorate further. The last Russian troop train crossed the temporary Estonian Russian border at Orava carrying Russian army property and 58 Russian soldiers with their families. The train stopped unexpectedly for two hours in the station while troops looted a nearby cabbage field, according to Estonian customs officials at Orava. While the troops loaded this final memory of Estonia onto the train the former Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic flag flew from a window.