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25 years since the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia

The last Russian troops left Estonia on 31 August 1994, which marked the completion of the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia. The occupation, which started in June 1940, had finally ended for good and Estonia’s path to stable development and accession to NATO and the European Union had opened. The July Treaties signed by Lennart Meri and Boris Yeltsin in 1994 and the withdrawal of the Russian troops that followed were a victory for Estonian diplomacy in the historical window that had opened up for us.

  • Negotiations about the withdrawal of the Russian troops between the Republic of Estonia and the Soviet Union started immediately after the restoration of the Republic of Estonia (20 August 1991), i.e. in September 1991, and lasted until December 1991 when the USSR ceased to exist and the remains of the contingent of foreign troops on Estonian soil requalified as the Russian Army. Negotiations continued in April 1992 with representatives of the Russian Federation.

  • As at 21 August 1991, the Soviet Army managed over 570 military sites and ca 35,000 people served on these sites according to various data. The number of military staff decreased considerably in the period that followed, but their numbers were much larger than those of the Republic of Estonia.

  • The negotiations were not easy. The Russian side offered 2002 as a possible deadline in 1992. As there was no way Estonia could agree to this, the meetings and consultations continued and the Russians finally promised to leave by 1997. However, it was extremely important to Estonia to achieve the withdrawal of Russian troops at the same time as they departed many other places, primarily Germany, where the deadline for departure was 31 August 1994. Estonia’s approach received strong international support and many Western countries took diplomatic steps to convince Russia: the United States of America and Sweden in particular, but many other countries were active in this as well. As such, we also gained the support of several international organisations (the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe).

  • On 26 July 1994, after tense negotiations, a treaty on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonian soil and on the conditions of their temporary stay in Estonia was signed between Estonia and Russia in Moscow. The treaty was signed by President of Estonia Lennart Meri and President of Russia Boris Yeltsin. One month and four days remained until 31 August 1994, the deadline for the withdrawal of the Russian troops, after the treaty was signed.

  • In addition to the treaty on the withdrawal of the troops, an agreement on social guarantees for pensioners of the Armed Forces of Russia in the territory of Estonia was signed in Moscow. A separate agreement on the neutralisation of the Paldiski nuclear site was signed a couple of days later, on 30 July. The deadline for the transfer of the Paldiski site was 30 September 1995, but it was no longer regarded as a military base according to the agreement.

  • As a result of the treaties, Russian troops were withdrawn from Estonia by 31 August 1994. Practical issues related to pensioners of the Armed Forces began to be resolved immediately: on 31 August, Russia submitted the list specified in the agreement and the respective Estonian Government committee started work on 1 September. The Paldiski nuclear site was fully handed over to Estonia on 30 September 1995. The entire process attracted a great deal of international attention and was completed peacefully.

  • After the July Treaties of 1994 were signed, they became an object of internal political opposition in Estonia. Irrespective of the impending elections, the view on future foreign policy approach was unanimous – integration with the West and the positive inclusion of Russia. Estonia, like the other two Baltic States, was now free in its choices and an important partner in a situation where NATO and the European Union were expanding eastwards.

  • The treaty on the withdrawal of the troops was the first major cooperative achievement with Western allies for Estonia, but it was also a challenge to the stability and flexibility of the state of Estonia.

  • An active foreign policy team had formed in Estonia from 1992-1994 at the level of both politicians and officials, who managed to successfully use the historical window that had opened up for Estonia, negotiate with Russia (including in many capitals around the world) and demonstrate diplomatic decisiveness and flexibility when needed, especially in relation to entering into the treaties of July 1994.

  • The July Treaties of 1994 were a victory for Estonian diplomacy, one which has been compared to entering into the Tartu Peace Treaty that ended the War of Independence and winning international recognition for the independence of Estonia.

Last updated: 31 August 2019

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