The last remaining members of the ex-Soviet military brigade left Cuba Saturday aboard the Russian cargo ship Yuri Gargarin, named after the Soviet Union's first man in space who visited Cuba in 1961 shortly before his death.
The motorized-infantry combat brigade was first sent to Cuba in December 1962, shortly after the October Missile Crisis.The mission of the Soviet brigade was to help train Cuban forces and to battle an enemy invasion alongside the island's defense forces.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Brigade became part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Last September Russia and Cuba agreed to withdraw the Brigade.
When withdrawal of the Brigade was first suggested by Soviet President Gorbachev, Cuban leader Fidel Castro asked that Soviet withdrawal be linked to a demand that the United States give up the Guantanamo Naval Base in Eastern Cuba.
Gen. Ulisis del Toro, chief of staff of the Cuban armed forces, watched as young Soviet soldiers and veteran officers, 500 in all including their families, went up the gang plank.
At a ceremony commemorating the departure of the Russian troops two weeks ago, Gen. del Toro said that military cooperation would continue between Cuba and the Russian armed forces.
At the same time, Lt. Gen. Valery Kotin, head of the group of Russian military specialists in Cuba said that "in comparison to the last three years, we are going to increase" collaboration between the two countries.
The nature of the collaboration was not spelled out, but it was made clear that Cuba would no longer receive its weapons and military equipment free of charge as it did in the days of the Soviet Union.