This Saturday will mark 25 years since the day when, under the July Treaties signed by Presidents Lennart Meri and Boris Yeltsin, Russian troops were withdrawn from Estonian territory. To mark the occasion, Minister of Defence Jüri Luik (Isamaa) gave an English-language lecture at 5:15 p.m., which was also livestreamed by ERR News.
A reception was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 5 p.m. Friday, where Reinsalu greeted the diplomatic corps, high officials and those who hold Estonia's fight for freedom in living memory.
Minister of Defence Jüri Luik (Isamaa) also gave an English-language lecture to mark the occasion, which was livestreamed on the foreign ministry's Facebook page as well as on ERR News.
Just like on Aug. 31, 1994, a fireworks display will also be held at the Governor's Garden on Toompea Hill on Saturday, beginning at 9:10 p.m.
Pressure led to more rapid withdrawal
Negotiations of the withdrawal of all Soviet and later Russian troops left in Estonia began immediately after the latter regained its independence in 1991. In 1992, Russia was prepared to promise to have all of its troops and materiel out of the country by 2002, but this was entirely unacceptable to the Estonian side.
A later offer by Russia was to have them out by 1997, halving the time they would take to withdraw, but still insisting that, given the enormous size of the contingents stationed in Estonia, the process would necessarily take a lot of time. Despite the stalling, Russia actually managed to remove tens of thousands of soldiers within just two years. By 1993, their number had shrunk to just 7,600 military personnel and associated individuals.
In connection with negotiations about a Russian military withdrawal from newly reunified Germany, NATO exercised enough pressure on Russia for the Soviet Union's legal successor to agree to have its troops out of the Baltic states by Aug. 31, 1994, the same deadline as applied for Germany. By this time, Russian troops were already entirely out of Lithuania, and Latvia had signed an agreement over their removal that same year, but Russia announced in July 1994 that it would not respect the Aug. 31 deadline in Estonia.
In an effort to relieve Western pressure on Russia, Yeltsin invited Meri himself to meet him in Moscow. With little communication or the agreement of Prime Minister Mart Laar's government, Meri accepted the invitation. The meeting successfully resulted in the signing of an agreement regarding the withdrawal of Russian troops in Estonia, with the deadline set for Aug. 31.
At the time Meri and Yeltsin signed the July Accords, the Russian Army still had more than 350 armored vehicles, several dozen tanks, hundreds of trucks, and more than 30 tons of missiles left in Estonia. By the end of August 1994, the bulk of it was gone.
Editor: Aili Vahtla