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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Once-Proud Army Leaves as Scavengers

BERLIN -- The commander of Russian forces in eastern Germany openly admitted Friday that he had ordered his homeward-bound troops to take everything with them, even, literally, in some cases the kitchen sink.

General Matvei Burlakov, who will lead the last of 375,000 former Soviet troops stationed in east Germany back to Russia at the end of August, said in an article in Bild newspaper that virtually everything on the bases was worth taking. He said that in Russia even a cement pole can be traded for five pigs.

"I ordered commanders to take everything with them as part of our withdrawal from Germany because practically everything can be of use at our new sites in Russia," Burlakov said.

Burlakov said that even material that can't be used at the bases in Russia can be swapped with local authorities for pigs, calves and other items.

"One can receive a few calves for putting up a nice fence, which would have just laid behind unused in Germany, around a Russian kindergarten," Burlakov said.

Cement poles that can be used for light poles at some Russian village could be swapped for five pigs, he said.

Russian troops at a former Soviet airbase in Neuruppin even took a 1.5 kilometer runway with them, loading thousands of 1.5-ton cement panels onto rail cars.

Apartments on the fringe of the runway that once housed Soviet officers and their families have been picked clean. The doors and windows in most buildings have been removed. Inside the abandoned flats, even the sinks and toilets are missing.

According to agreements signed in 1990 between Germany and the Soviet Union, the troops leaving Germany are entitled to take anything "transportable" with them.

German officials have expressed surprise at the broad interpretation the Russians have for "transportable" objects, but have refrained from objecting.

"The most important thing is that the withdrawal runs smoothly and without problems," said Alois Bach, spokesman for the German army in Bonn.

He said much of the housing the Russians are stripping will be torn down after they leave.