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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops Strip Everything and the Kitchen Sink

KLOOGA, Estonia -- The knee-high grass waving in the evening breeze at this deserted military base was deceptive. Now silent but for the crickets chirruping under gaping, broken barracks windows, the base had been buzzing with activity just a few hours earlier.


Russian officers had swarmed across the complex, packing what they could and wrecking what they could not.


"Everything's been torn up, robbed, destroyed," said Sergei Glazunov, a 21-year-old enlisted man who had volunteered to lead a tour of the base.


Inside, the building was stripped bare. Windows were broken, wiring and light switches stripped from the walls, door knobs torn off. In the main barracks hall, all 20 radiators and all the piping had been ripped out. Heaped in one corner was a pile of torn communist tracts and the works of Marx and Engels. Dozens of metal bunk frames stood stacked against the barracks wall in the courtyard, while torn gas masks were scattered among the weeds.


The proverbial kitchen sink never stood a chance.


Wednesday is the deadline for all Russian troops to leave Estonia and Latvia. In all but name, however, the withdrawal is already over. The last rear fender caught on the boxcar door with a screech of metal-on-metal.


On neighboring boxcars, officers loaded dressers, mattresses and boxes of personal belongings. Thick, black coal dust, stirred up by the evening breeze, swirled around the train station, forcing everyone to shield their eyes.


"They've been packing up for two days now. I start crying just about every time I see them," said Ira, a middle-aged Russian woman with grey frizzy hair who works at the Klooga train station and will remain behind. "I'm so sorry to see these families leave."


But if the Russian soldiers were unhappy, they hid it well.


"We've known for several years we'd have to leave, so we are used to the idea. I do think Yeltsin's decision in late July that we have to leave just a month later, in late August, has made life difficult for a lot of people," said Captain Ruslan Makarenko, 40, a portly former tank driver with a bushy black mustache.


Makarenko, leaning against his white four-wheel-drive car, said he did not know whether he would ride out on the train or drive his family out.


"Some will drive themselves, some will be hauled out," he said. "If there's space, I'll load my Niva onto a box car and ride out. We've been loading these trains for two days straight, so those who get on the train will relax and have a few beers."


As the withdrawal neared completion, the commander-in-chief of the Estonian army accused Russian officers of selling arms and equipment for their personal profit


"Everything's for sale, and the money goes into the commanders' pockets and not the Russian treasury," said Major General Alexander Einseln.


"I'm sure I could have gotten a tank, had I wanted one. It's all for sale, communications equipment, ammunition, trucks, you name it. No senior Russian officer will admit it, but some of the junior officers have told us privately that they've been told to take back to Russia what they need, sell whatever they want and destroy the rest. Those are really their orders.


"They make boxes out of the floorboards and ship the radiators back to Russia in them. In some places they've twisted apart the faucets and ruined the plumbing," said Einseln.


Russian military commanders were unavailable for comment on Einseln's allegations.trains carrying heavy equipment and officers left Monday; some officers will remain behind to lower the Russian flags over bases and turn them over to the Estonians.


Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Voznyuk, 43, said the men and equipment of the Klooga Soviet base -- built on the Estonian Baltic Sea coastline, in what was once a resort area -- would be pulled back to a base under construction near Smolensk.


"I went out there to see it," Voznyuk said. "It was a wheat field. There were some tents, and the foundations had been laid for the apartments."


As he spoke, eight officers strained to push a Volga sedan up a ramp and into one of dozens of boxcars provided for the officers' possessions. The Volga's