Latvia auctions off Soviet military ghost town

RIGA — A former Red Army garrison town deserted since Moscow's troops left the ex-Soviet republic of Latvia a decade ago Friday was auctioned off to a Russian firm for 10 times its list price, authorities said.

"Out of three bidders, the winning bidder was the company Alekseyevskoe-Service," Anete Fridensteina-Bridina, spokeswoman for Latvia's state privatization agency, told AFP.

The bidder offered 1.5 million lats (2.2 million euros, 3.0 million dollars) for the once-secret Soviet military community of Skrunda-1.

The starting price for the ghost town, 150 kilometres (93 miles) west of the Latvian capital Riga, had been 150,000 lats.

The lot included 45 hectares (111 acres) of land, 10 apartment blocs, two nightclubs, a shopping centre, kindergarten, barracks and a sauna complex.

Lack of maintenance over the years however has taken its toll on the empty buildings, many of which still sport decaying communist-era murals depicting Soviet icons such as Lenin.

It was not immediately clear what the property will be used for, the privatization agency said. However, the buyer can do what it pleases to the site provided it respects zoning rules, the agency added.

Skrunda-1 was one of the closed communities dotted across the Soviet Union that housed military or scientific facilities, plus employees and their families.

Located just outside the regular town of Skrunda, Skrunda-1 was an anti-ballistic missile radar base set up in the 1970s.

But after the end of the Cold War, Skrunda-1 became a symbol of the post-Cold War "peace dividend", as Latvia and Russia signed an accord on dismantling its two radar sites.

One was demolished in 1995 and the other -- the largest in the Baltic -- ceased operations in 1998.

The last Russian soldier left Skrunda-1 the following year.

Moscow took over Latvia during World War II, and kept it in its grip until the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

Under a bilateral deal, Russia had pulled the bulk of its forces out of the nation of 2.2 million people in 1994.

Latvia joined NATO in 2004 and decided to sell Skrunda-1 four years later.