For sale: one radar base. Previous owner: the Soviet Union. Price: a bargain basement $300,000 (£192,000).
Some 20 years after the end of communism, Latvia is auctioning off one of its most striking cold war artefacts – an entire Soviet early warning station formerly known as Skrunda-1.
The main 60-metre-high radar tower was blown up a decade ago, but yesterday Latvia's crisis-hit government auctioned off everything else: 70 buildings including five-storey concrete accommodation blocks, a school, hotel and even a hospital.
For decades Skrunda-1 played a key role in the defence of the Soviet Union, scanning the skies for incoming nuclear warheads, as well as rogue meteorites and debris from space. In the event that the US, or less plausibly the UK, had decided to unleash nuclear Armageddon against the Soviets the radar station would have immediately warned the Politburo in Moscow.
But since the last Russian personnel departed 12 years ago the base, 45 miles (70kms) west of the capital Riga, has become a ghost town.
The modest asking price reflects Latvia's economic woes. It suggests that the government – struggling with the worst recession of the EU's three Baltic states – is rather hard-up. Observers note that the same cash will buy you a four-bedroom flat in downtown Riga. "If investors don't want to buy in the capital, they are hardly likely to spend money on a empty wreck far away," said Yuri Alexeyev, editor-in-chief of the Baltic Business newspaper. The local population was nostalgic for the Russians, he added, as there was now nobody to spend money in their shops.
The government divulged few details of today's auction, held in secret. But it intimated the successful bidder would have to take over the town as a job lot. Any purchaser will face a lengthy repair bill: many of the windows are smashed. Departing Russian troops took everything of value in the late 1990s.
The decision to demolish the monumental lego-shaped radar building was as much about symbolism as anything else: to show that Latvia had decisively broken with Soviet occupation and the totalitarian past.
Now, though, it's clear the government could do with some cash. In 2008 it was forced to take a 7.5 billion Euro bailout from the EU and the IMF, with its economy shrinking by 18% last year. It is now poised for a modest recovery, experts believe.