Anaconda of the Great Ķemeri Bog

AnakondaSometimes it amazes how little we know about the place we live in. A great discovery for quite a few people would be the fact that even Latvia has its own constrictor – a snake that strangles its pray to death. Yes, we do have one too. Our “anaconda” is probably not that big and is not harmful to people, but still a predator. Known as the smooth snake or Coronella austriaca it is actually not limited only to the territory of Latvia but is to be found as far as Portugal in the West and Sicily and Greece in the South. However, in Latvia you can find it only in the central area around the Gulf of Riga and the Great Ķemeri Bog in particular. Its usual pray is other reptiles and sometimes even the only venomous snake in Latvia – the viper.

No photos!

One thing is clear: Soviet military sites was not a free space to roam around let alone take photos. Especially Soviet missile bases was the top secret area and people with even the slightest stains in the history like tendency for fist fights or drinking or any kind of other excessive or non-exemplary behaviour were never selected. This was the most serious post you could ever get – to deal with the nuclear missiles. Of course no talking around was tolerated either, and you could get KGB knocking on your door the very next day. The secrecy in these sites was so overwhelming that during drills no lights were used. The military turned off even the blackout lights. These ones are equipped with special lenses that are designed to reduce the light beams to the minimum so that no one can spot your movements at night. So the security measures did not leave room for compromises.

Having said that it is really surprising to see this photo taken at Zeltiņi. What you can see here is MAZ-543 missile carrying vehicle that were widely used for short- and medium-range (exactly what you could find in Zeltini) ballistic missiles back in the Soviet times. Photo cameras were strictly forbidden in the area of the base. The possession of such a photo would translate into big trouble for the owner and leaving the unit would be the mildest of the consequences.

Zeltini Latvija

However according to sources, this photo was taken in 1984 and it was the time when even the soldiers serving in the most secret units were gradually giving way to a more careless behaviour. They sometimes secretly took photos and later brought them home where they got developed. Later these memories proudly decorated many photo albums of the former servicemen.

By the way, the hero you can see in this shot is MAZ-543 or later MAZ 7310 also known as the “Hurricane”. Production of these missile carrying vehicles started in 1960s after being “promoted” from having to carry around tanks – this is what its “father”, MAZ-537, was in charge of.  Later with entering the civilian life its range of applications virtually exploded. It became an airport firefighting truck, crane, drilling rig, pipeline carrier and even a regular dump truck. It has proven to be such a good breed of “horse” that it is also the choice of the North Korean leader when it comes to parading his own missiles.

Where did they go?

13262148_10154860924287366_127707781_oAfter the remaining radars of Skrunda-1 were shut down in the autumn of 1998, it took about a year for the military to dismantle them and take back to Russia. Majority of the residents of Skrunda-1 followed suit. These people can be divided in two groups. Part of the officers were lucky enough to get jobs in similar military towns all over Russia where they kept working on and around early warning radar installations. The most popular destinations were Solnechnogorsk just 60 km outside Moscow and Serpukhov-15 – about twice as far to the south-west from the Russian capital. The former is the control centre for the Russian anti-missile radar network. In other words this is the place where all the data from the radars is accumulated and assessment is made whether the threats are real enough to call up Putin and let him decide for or against a nuclear counterattack.

Speaking about threats, the other one, Serpukhov-15 is, by the way, the place where the famous 1983 incident took place. During the grimmest time in the US-Soviet relations after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the satellite early warning network detected at first one and then four American missiles heading for the Soviet Union. Only the clear mind of the officer on duty that night saved the world from all-out nuclear war as he correctly dismissed the warning of the system as false.

However the rest of the officers were not that lucky and had to start a new life. At the same time, they could consider themselves somewhat luckier than the lower-ranking military personnel as the Russian government would cover 80 % of the cost of a new apartment in whichever city they would choose to live. Bulk of them of course chose Saint Petersburg. Moscow was not that popular. The ones that did not settle in either of the two Russian megacities or any of the military towns, went for a myriad of locations, some of them moving from one place to another even several times before finding their new home. There were also those who started a new life in other former Soviet countries, for the greatest part in the neighbouring Ukraine and Belorussia.