Lithuania in the news
31st August, 2003
Lithuania celebrates 10 years without the Russian army.
Kaunas Old Town
In the background is the confluence
of the rivers Nemunas and Neris
Sunday August 31, 2003, was the 10th anniversary of the departure of the Russian army from Lithuania, the first country of the former Soviet block to free itself of the occupying Russian forces, ahead of the other Baltic States, Germany, Poland. The last Russian army units crossed Lithuania's border at 15 min to midnight on August 31, 1993.
A number of interesting facts are now coming to light about the Soviet army's former presence in Lithuania. The Kaunas region had a special importance in the deployment of Soviet forces. The elite "Black" 7th airborne division had been stationed in Kaunas, with its headquarters in Gediminas Street. In the Kaunas suburb of Panemune the special purpose 108th regiment had established itself. This regiment had become noted with "special distinctions in combat", having taken leading and brutal roles in the attacks on Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Afghanistan (1979).
In Jonava, not far from Kaunas, there was the USSR airborne forces' chief training centre No.242, where attack brigades were trained at the highest professional level. Their job was to occupy abroad objects of special importance: government offices, embassies, radio and TV stations, banks. In Mariampole, south of Kaunas, the 119th airborne regiment was deployed. In the adjacent Kazlu Ruda forest one of best military aerodromes in USSR had been built. This aerodrome, together with those in Rukla and Kedainai, were meant to be the springboard to the West for Soviet airborne forces.
The 7th airborne division in Kaunas was the finest jewel in the Soviet army crown and only the best officers served there. It is no wonder that many former Soviet veterans from Kaunas have found it difficult to reconcile themselves to having had to leave Kaunas. Every year on August 31 in central Moscow, in apartment 31 of no. 9 Sivtsev Vrazhek cross-street, there had been coming together a group from the "creme de la creme" of the Russian capital - a few former marshals and generals, high officials - to commemorate, according to them, the saddest day in their lives, the departure of the last Russian army units from Lithuania.
The first toast of the evening is to the return to Kaunas. If it was not for the fact that Lithuania will now join NATO in May, 2004, such toasts Lithuanians would find very disturbing. With hindsight we can appreciate what a remarkable achievement it was for Lithuania to be the first country to free itself of Russian occupying forces.

Sources: "Lietuvos Rytas", August 23 & 30, 2003