The small town of Skrunda, 150 km from Riga in Latvia, was the site of two HEN HOUSE radars built in the 1960s. Construction of a PECHORA [Daryal] class large phased array radar at the so-called "northern center" began in 1984. According to some news reports (Wash Times 18 Aug 86), the facility was one of three radars of this type the construction of which was initially detected by Western intelligence in 1986. The 60-meter structure was to have been one of the most important Soviet stations for listening to objects in space. At the beginning of the 1990's, construction of this Daryal station was put on hold.
The Western intelligence community used the nomenclature HEN HOUSE to cover several distinct types of Soviet early warning radars. Construction of the Dnestr-M radar, which was stationed in the trans-polar area (RO-1 in Murmansk) and Latvia (RO-2 in Riga), began in 1963-1964. On 15 February 1971, the RO-2 node was put into operation, the first radar station of the system. This date is considered to be an official beginning of Russian early warning system organization.
To ensure that the information obtained under heavy noise conditions caused, for example, by the northern lights in the polar ionosphere, is reliable, an additional Daugava receiving station was erected at Skrunda. The Daugava is 1,000 ft2 small Y-array. It was equipped with a large-aperture phased array having phase-phase control capability and featured a hybrid super-high frequency microwave technology that was used there for the first time.
Pursuant to an agreement "On the Legal Status of the Skrunda Radar Station During its temporary Operation and Dismantling", signed by Latvia and the Russian Federation on 30 April 1994, the Russian Federation was been allowed to run the HEN HOUSE station for four years, after which it was obliged to dismantle the station within eighteen months. The deadline for dismantling was 29 February 2000. Russia asked Latvia to extend the lease on the Dnepr station at Skrunda for at least two years, until the new Daryal station under construction near Baranovichi became operational. Riga rejected these requests, and the radar was closed on 04 September 1998.
In a joint New year statement, the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania urged Russian President Boris Yeltsin to complete the pullout of all Russian troops from the region, as promised, in 1994.
Latvian-Russian talks resumed at on 11 January 1994. The principal topic of discussions was the Skrunda radar site. Russia claimed that continued operation of the HEN HOUSE radars was essential for its security. The Russian delegation proposed shortening Moscow's jurisdiction over the radar from six to five years. The Latvian side had previously indicated willingness to consider three years if Russia met other conditions regarding the withdrawal of its forces from Latvia by 31 August 1994.
On 7 February 1994 heads of the Latvian and Russian delegations, Martins Virsis and Sergei Zotov, met in Moscow to discuss issues related to the pullout of Russian troops from Latvia. Zotov said that Russia would agree to the complete withdrawal of its troops from Latvia by 31 August 1994 if Latvia allowed Russia to use the Skrunda radar for the next four years and dismantle it within the following 18 months. This appeared to be essentially the compromise solution to the issue that had been suggested by US officials separately to both Russian and Latvian representatives. Ilgonis Upmalis stated on 7 February that two Russian army units -- medical and counterintelligence -- had been transferred recently to Skrunda, where previously there was only personnel operating the radar and a transportation battalion.
On 14 February 1994, Latvian and Russian delegations met for three days of talks in Jurmala. The participants focused on the details concerning formal accords regarding Russia's withdrawal of its troops from Latvia by 31 August 1994. Among the principal points requiring agreement is the control and eventual dismantling of the Skrunda radar and the "social guarantees" for retired Soviet officers and Russian servicemen living in Latvia
On 17 February 1994 the latest round of Latvian-Russian negotiations on the withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment from Latvia ended without signing any specific agreements. While the two sides agreed that Russia could maintain the Skrunda radar for another 4 years and take 18 months to dismantle it, agreement was not reached on the specifics, such as the costs of leasing the property and dismantling the radar. The two sides also failed to reach an accord on the status and social security of Soviet and Russian military pensioners in Latvia after the Russian troops depart, presumably by 31 August 1994.
On 2 March 1994 Aleksandr Rannikh, Russian ambassador in Riga, expressed firm protest to the Latvian authorities over the damage to an electric power line supplying electricity to the Skrunda radar station. According to the Latvian police, repair work has started on the electric lines and the pylon that were damaged on 28 February by explosives and the incident is being investigated. Latvian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aivars Vovers told the press that the government will do everything possible to find out what happened and to punish those responsible.
On 12 March 1994 about 1,000 people participated in a rally at the Doms Square in Riga, organized by the Popular Front of Latvia and the Homeland and Freedom Association. The front's deputy chairman, Juris Kokins, said that the next round of talks with Russia, beginning on 14 March in Moscow, was expected to result in a treaty according to which Russia would withdraw its troops from Latvia by 31 August if allowed to retain its Skrunda radar base for four years with an additional 18 months for dismantling it. The rally attendees protested the signing of such a treaty, asserting that Russia wanted the Skrunda radar not as a technical installation, but as a military base where it would keep troops that could be used for various political purposes.
On 15 March 1994 in Moscow Russian and Latvian delegations initialed three of four agreements on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Latvia. The final pullout was to be completed by 31 August, but Russia would be allowed to maintain its radar base at Skrunda with 500 military and 200 civilian personnel for four more years, with an additional 18 months for dismantling it. No agreement was reached on the amount of rent for the base; Latvia was not satisfied with Russia's offer of $2 million per year. The agreements included social protection for the withdrawing troops and social guarantees for Russian military pensioners who retired before 28 January 1992, when Russia officially transferred the former Soviet army to its jurisdiction.
On 6 April 1994, Maris Riekstins, State Secretary of the Latvian Foreign Ministry, issued a protest to Russian ambassador Aleksandr Rannikh over the signing on 5 April of a presidential decree to create 30 Russian military bases in the territory of CIS states and Latvia, Baltic and Western agencies reported. Rannikh promised to seek clarification from Moscow. After an emergency Cabinet session, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs said that the decree contradicted the agreements initialed on 15 March. Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis issued a statement declaring that the decree was a threat to European security and it raised questions about Russia's real aims in negotiations with Latvia. Latvia would never agree to have Russian military bases in its territory, he said.
On 7 April 1994, Russia's ambassador to Riga, Aleksandr Rannikh, apologized officially for the technical error in the published text of a presidential decree that included Latvia as a state with which Russia would negotiate for permanent military bases. He said that the radar station at Skrunda was a military establishment, under civilian control, and cannot be regarded as a military base. Its future was determined by the agreement on Russian troop withdrawal initialed on 15 March. He expressed surprise that a copy of the decree reached the Latvian foreign ministry before it reached its Russian counterpart.
On 11 April 1994, in Copenhagen Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis had meetings with Danish Prime Minister Poul Rasmussen and Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen to discuss Latvian-Russian relations in the light of the Russian president's recent decree mentioning a Russian military base in Latvia. Ulmanis told a press conference that he doubted the decree could have been a mistake for it reflected the views of a segment of Russian society. There were indications, he said, that the Skundra radar station was being converted to a military base, for a week prior to the decree "staff vacations and leave were canceled and construction work inside the base increased."
On 30 April 1994, the Russian and Latvian presidents as well as prime ministers signed an accord stipulating the pullout of Russian troops--Russian media speak of about 12,000 soldiers, while Latvian estimates tend to be lower--from Latvia by 31 August 1994. The Latvian side wanted to have President Boris Yeltsin's signature on that document, even if this and related accords did not require the signatures of the heads of state. Three other accords and a protocol were signed by Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs and Russian Deputy Premier Oleg Soskovets; they dealt with Russia's maintenance of the radar at Skrunda for several more years, social guarantees for Russian military retirees in Latvia, and related issues. All of the agreements must be ratified by the Latvian and Russian parliaments.
On 04 May 1994, a group of Latvian officials, headed by Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs, took over several unfinished buildings, including 42.2 hectares of land where the buildings stand, at the Russian-controlled Skrunda radar complex. At the same time, Latvia granted Russia temporary use of 164.5 hectares of land on which the functioning radar stands. Latvian Minister of State for Environmental Protection and Regional Development said that it would be difficult to convert these buildings for civilian use and that they may have to be torn down. Birkavs said that the regulations for bidding for the work of dismantling of the Skrunda radar may be announced around 15 May.
On 27 May 1994, it was announced that the Latvian Economic Ministry was accepting bids from entrepreneurs in Latvia for the dismantling of the newer constructions of the Russian radar complex at Skrunda until 01 August. Russia turned over to Latvia this section of Skrunda earlier in May, in accordance with one of the provisions in the accords on the withdrawal of Russian forces signed by Latvia and Russia on 30 April. The results of the competition were expected to be announced around 20 October 1994, after a thorough evaluation of each project and the estimated costs
On 16 August 1994, Latvian Premier Valdis Birkavs and US Ambassador to Latvia Ints Silins signed accords on US technical and financial assistance worth $7 million for the dismantling of an unfinished building that is part of the facilities at the Russian radar station in Skrunda. American firms are expected to submit their bids soon for accomplishing the task. This building is one of the sites at Skrunda that Russians have vacated.
On 02 September 1994, the incumbent Latvian prime minister, Valdis Birkavs, dismissed as impossible Latvian-Russian cooperation in the sphere of defense but stressed the necessity of normal, good-neighborly relations between the two countries in other spheres. Birkavs called for the prompt withdrawal from Latvia of the remaining Russian servicemen. According to Latvian estimates, more than 2,000 Russian soldiers and military specialists remained in the country on 01 September 1994.
Russian forces left Estonia and Latvia on 31 August 1994, as announced by Russian and other media in advance. Though their departure formally marks the end of Moscow's military presence in the two countries, several thousand Russian military personnel and their families remain there
On 28 October 1994, the Russian State Duma approved the Latvian-Russian accords related to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Latvia and the status of Russian military retirees. The the Lavtian Parliament [the Saeima] on 24 November 1994 approved the Latvian-Russian accords on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Latvia. The Russian radar station at Skrunda with a personnel of 699 and thousands of Russian military pensioners, will remain for five years.
In the framework of the 30 April 1994 Agreement, a Committee on the Skrunda Radar Station was established, "consisting of an equal number of representatives of both Parties and a representative or representatives from an international organization of which both Parties are members", to monitor and co-ordinate the implementation of the agreement. Furthermore, it was agreed that the OSCE would hold periodic and challenge inspections in order to monitor implementation of the agreement. The tasks of the OSCE Representative constitute a distinct operation and are separate from the activities of the OSCE Mission to Latvia.
In February 1995, the terms of reference for an OSCE inspection were finalized and the first periodic inspection took place six months later at the end of August 1995. Subsequent inspections took place twice a year at approximately six month intervals. The inspections were designed to ensure that operation of the station is being carried out in accordance with the Skrunda Agreement. For example, no additional installation and replacement of equipment and components, or construction work could be carried out that could result in the modernization of the Station or change its functions or technical parameters. The station must also retain the radio frequencies and communication channels that it used at the moment of the signing of the Agreement.
The Skrunda PECHORA radar building was destroyed by explosive charges on 04 May 1995. The destruction of the radar building succeeded only after a second attempt due to considerations of safety, because a helicopter was flying too close to the radar building. In 12 seconds 1.5 tons of dynamite turn the former Soviet military structure into a heap of rubble. The dismantling was done by the U.S. company Control Demolition Inc. The company was selected from the bids submitted.
The accord on renting the Soviet-period Skrunda station for an annual five million dollars ended on 31 August 1998. In June 1998 Col. Gen. Vladimir Yakovlev, commander-in-chief of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces said that the closure of the HEN HOUSE missile attack early warning system in Skrunda, Latvia, will be "a loss of important monitoring parameters" in the northeast but means are available to offset the loss. A similar station under construction in Baranovichi, Belarus, will resolve all the problems caused by the closure of the Skrunda station, Yakovlev said. Other radars will cover the sector normally covered by the Skrunda station for as long as the Baranovichi station is under construction, Yakovlev said. Apart from Skrunde, Russia has its ground-based radar stations in Sevastopol, Ukraine; Mukachevo, Ukraine; Balkhash, Kazakhstan; Gabala, Azerbaijan, and in Murmansk, Pechora and Irkutsk in its own territory.
Russia fully gave over territory of the Skrunda radar station to Latvia in October 1999, thus halting operation of the last Russian military facility in Latvia.
The Skrunda complex still includes more than 60 buildings, though most were stripped bare when Russian forces left. In January 2001 a company in Latvia said it planned to turn the former radar base into a recreation center with an array of restaurants, a hotel and an amusement park.
|Click on the small image to view a larger version|
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|