Saturday, November 10, 2007

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Võru

South Estonia, especially Võru county, is a place hiding many interesting things - and many interesting people. There is a Barclay Hotel in Tartu, named after Barclay de Tolli, the Russian army general from the Napoleon wars. It is located in the building which, in the Soviet days, used to house the headquarters of the South Estonian Military District. The presidential suite of the hotel used to be the office of the district commander - one Djohar Dudaev, later on the first president of rebellious Chechnya.

There's also an urban legend about nukes in Võru. I thought it was improbable, myself - strategic munitions so close to the Western border - even though the Raadi airfield near Tartu was designated as an emergency strip for Soviet nuclear bombers. But stranger things have happened. Below is an account by a friend who grew up in Võru county.

There were as many as eight Soviet military objects in Võru county: a surveillance station in Meremäe, a communications unit in Mõniste, missile bases in Sänna and Nursi, firing ranges in Nursi and Kubija, an airport in Ridali and another missile base in Palometsa.

Nursi and Sänna were the nuclear missile sites. In Sänna, at least one of the cupolas of the underground launching silos should still be there, although access to the base is restricted now. Both bases stored intermediate-range ballistic missiles - R-12/SS-4 - targeted to cities in Belgium, Germany, Denmark and Norway. The R-12 Dvina missiles were exactly like the ones deployed to Cuba in 1962.

A missile was actually fired to Novaya Zemlya once from the Sänna base, without the nuclear warhead, supposedly, but this fact has nevertheless a highly gasp-inducing factor.

The missiles were removed from Sänna and Nursi around 1988-89, although yeah, there are all sorts of stories about how some of them were left behind, hidden away with other weaponry. Around 1999 people became sort of paranoid about some supposed secret storage facilities...

When the missiles were gone, most of the Russians living at the bases quietly left as well, and local farmers couldn't have been happier. They explored the sites and brought all kinds of stuff home with them and used it in their households. Some barracks were never restored either, and roughly about 6-7 years ago, some local schoolboys went to Nursipalu and brought with them a huge glass jar filled with mercury, which was stored under a layer of petroleum. The word is that those glass jars were in abundance there. I wonder what these were used for.

Another interesting fact is that although the nuclear parts of the warheads were removed a long time ago (some warheads still remained, but without the radioactive stuff - some local farmers have made use of these as bee-hives, actually), they are still conducting radioactivity surveys regularly, the last one was apparently in 2001-2002.

As far as the urban legends go, people do talk about the high incidence of leukemia in Nursi.


Anonymous said...

Missiles in Nursi and Sänna weren't any urban legends at all. I did once spend some weeks at 'kordusõppused' in Võru, where we were traineed to operate those missiles (the missiles were practically german VAU's - all the automatic there was were some gyroskopes propelled before start with 100 atm pressed air, and some mechanical devices for operating elerones, whitch were automated by electrochemical relays. An extremly sturdy and foolproof system, but extremly slow in operating. There were different levels of readiness, and from highest of them you needed some 3 hours to launch the missile (I don't belive our bunch could launch it in 3 days :-))). Of course all our training was on imitators and models only in Võru Kubija - nobody did allow us near real missiles.

Sometimes lecturing officers did tell us some army legends about those missiles. Or maybe no legends at all - in SA anything was possible.

P.e. there was a telling, that at start the forest wasn't high enough to hide the full length of 22,5 m missile in launchpad. So when some high general from Moscow arriwed for inspection and did see a top of missile above trees before arriving at base, local bosses from base were roughly worked out. After that, one of missiles was somewhat mended - there were a couple of meters cut out from centre of missile and remaining parts were welded again. This missile was the one which was in highest readiness on launch pad for several years - until the forest did grow high enough to conceal the real ones.


Anonymous said...

Well, allegedly it was supposed to take no more than 31 minutes to launch the missiles (according to the Soviet officers who were leaving Estonia back then).
The forest thing sounds familiar though. Here in Tartu, it was forbidden to cut the trees growing on Narvamägi so that people wouldn't get a glimpse of what is happening at the Raadi military airport from the highest point on Toome hill.

Anonymous said...

Barclay de Tolli, the Russian army general from the Napoleon wars.

Actually, Barclay de Tolly was a germanized Scot, whose forefathers had come to Livonia in the 1620s. Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly's father was a retired lieutenant. Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly was born at Zeimys, Lithuania, in 1761. He entered imperial military service at an early age and advanced slowly through the ranks. Barclay served against the
Turks in 1790 and in 1794 against the Swedes and Poles. He became a colonel in 1798 and a major-general in 1799. He subsequently distinguished himself in several major actions in the war against Napoleon. In 1809 Barclay wrested Finland from the Swedes for the Tsar, was briefly Governor of Finland, and was made Minister of War in 1810.
Because he was not Russian, but a German-speaking Scot domiciled in Livonia at Dorpat/Tartu, there was widespread resentment against Barclay and many intrigues against him at court.
It was Barclay who pioneered the successful 'scorched earth'policy against Napoleon with which Kutuzov was credited after Barclay was removed from command after the defeat at Smolensk. Barclay was present at Borodino in a subordinate capacity, but left the army after the battle.
Eventually, all his honors were restored by the Tsar. Barclay again served as Commander-in-Chief at Dresden, Kulm and Leipzig in 1813. After the latter battle, he was made a count. He participated in the invasion of France in 1814 and received his marshal's baton in Paris. He again commanded on the invasion of France in 1815 and was made a prince. He died at Insterburg in Prussia in 1818. His remains are entombed in an elaborate mausoleum at Jõgeveste.

That tilting building housing the Kivisilla galerii near the bridge was the Barclays' town house, though the Prince spent much of his time at his estate at Jõgeveste.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Flasher, about the nukes in Võrumaa. I did not have an inkling...

Another tangent about that OTHER non-Russian field commander who is memorialized in Tartu...

Djokhar Dudaev was just a babe in arms when Stalin deported the Chechen nation to Kazakhstan in 1944. He was 13 before he returned to his homeland. Yet he joined the Soviet Air Force AND the CPSU, rose to the rank of lieutenant-general (the first of his people to achieve general rank in Russian service), and in 1987 was fatefully appointed to command a division of TU-22A (NATO designation: Backfire) nuclear bombers at Tartu, also serving as Tartu garrison commander. During the events of the 'Singing Revolution,' Dudaev took a soft and permissive line toward public demonstrations and displays of the sini-must-valge. In 1992, he resigned his commission and returned to his homeland Chechnya. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history....

antyx said...

Russian army general as in, a general of the Russian army. :P

The rest, as the cliché goes, is history....

There was one more episode which might be relevant to us; probably the first time that the newly independent Estonia had seriously pissed off Russia. In '92, we also had a money reform, adapting the kroon. The gathered roubles were supposed to be shipped back to Russia, which was paying hard currency for them; but apparently, somebody paid more. Laar was PM at the time, I think, his first term. The mass of roubles never made it to Russia, and there are reasons to believe that it found its way to Chechnya. Estonia got 2 billion dollars, and the Chechens got a massive pile of Russian currency to do their terrorist thing. This is deeply in urban legend status, as hardly anything can be proven, but it is a curious twist of fate from that wild era.

Anonymous said...

Flasher wrote: The mass of roubles never made it to Russia, and there are reasons to believe that it found its way to Chechnya.

Is this urban legend perpetuated by those who also allege blonde Baltic amazons fighting for the Chechens? Or those drawing skewed comparisons between demos in Tblisi and riots in Tallinn?

Well, the less credulous might just say: "Lihtlabane kiuslik tibla laim!"

Present company excepted, of course... :)

antyx said...

Ah yes, the legend of the White Stockings! That's a good one. :)

Anonymous said...

Flasher T said...
Russian army general as in, a general of the Russian army. :P

I know you know, as do Antyx regulars, all about Barclay and Dudaev. For the benefit of newbies, I was just sneaking in some background on the Scots and Chechens in Tartu's colorful history. Anyone know whether there's truth to the rumor that Dudaev's daughter learned Estonian and was at one time enrolled at Tartu university?

Russian rocketry in Nursi and Sänna, though, was real news to a lot of us out here in cyberspace. I thought all the rockets were on the north coast and in Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. The military presence in terms of manpower and hardware had to be pretty dense in little Estonia. Hey, maybe the rockets in Võrumaa were meant to keep that Saldejums gang in line?


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