Russia resumes Baltic troop withdrawal

RUSSIA and Lithuania yesterday shelved a dispute which had threatened to sour their relations, and got the scheduled withdrawal of former Soviet troops from the Baltic republic back on track.

The Lithuanian leader, Algirdas Brazauskas, said a telephone conversation with Russia's Boris Yeltsin had cleared the air and produced a compromise, and the troops would be out by today. A spokesman for Mr Yeltsin said the soldiers would leave 'in the nearest future'.

Russia and Lithuania had agreed months ago that the last former Soviet units would leave Vilnius by the end of August. But last week Moscow suspended the pullout after the Lithuanians suggested they were owed compensation for damage done by the military in their republic since Stalin annexed it in 1940. Russia, which was happy to be seen as the successor to the Soviet Union when it claimed its seat on the United Nations Security Council, took the position that it was not liable for the misdeeds of the old superpower.

Yesterday Mr Yeltsin and Mr Brazauskas reached a compromise whereby the issue of compensation would be tackled at a later date. 'I had a good, frank conversation with Mr Yeltsin during which an acceptable compromise was agreed,' said the Lithuanian leader. He added that the troop withdrawal would 'open a new, clean white page in relations between our countries'.

Moscow may have been persuaded to resume preparations for the pullout by warnings from the United States that further non-humanitarian aid to Russia was dependent on the troops going home. Mr Yeltsin may also have been influenced by the fact that on Saturday, the Pope is due to start a tour of the Baltic states, the first papal visit to the former Soviet Union.