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Wrap: Kremlin irked by EU, US stance on war memorial flap with Estonia

Russia has been angered by the reaction of some EU countries, as well as the U.S., in an escalating dispute with Estonia over the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from central Tallinn.
MOSCOW, May 3 (RIA Novosti) - Russia has been angered by the reaction of some EU countries, as well as the U.S., in an escalating dispute with Estonia over the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from central Tallinn.

Russia's Foreign Ministry expressed concern to the ambassadors of Germany, Portugal and the European Commission Thursday over their failure to denounce Estonia's actions.

"Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Glushko expressed deep concern about a lack of response from the European Union to Tallinn's actions," the ministry said in a reference to the removal of the Soviet-era World War II monument from central Tallinn to a military cemetery last week.

Germany's Walter Schmidt, Portugal's Manuel Marcelo Curto, and Paul Vandoren, deputy head of the European Commission delegation to Russia, were summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry Thursday after the EU moved to back Estonia in the conflict and expressed concern about security of Estonian diplomats in Moscow.

The monument's relocation sparked a wave of protests, both in Moscow and Tallinn. The Estonian Embassy in Moscow has been under siege by pro-Kremlin youth activists from the Nashi (Ours) movement since last week. The protesters tore down a flag from the embassy building and mobbed Ambassador Marina Kaljurand Wednesday.

Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko said youth activists are in fact protecting the Estonian Embassy, consulate, and diplomats against extremists.

"If we had not been outside the embassy building, some drunk or aggressive individuals would have torn it to pieces," he said.

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman said an increased police presence had been mounted near the embassy.

"What is happening there is within the law, and offenders have been brought to justice," Mikhail Kamynin said.

Five protesters have reportedly been arrested in Moscow.

Toward Thursday evening Nashi's Yakemenko said the siege will be lifted because the Estonian ambassador has left Russia.

"This is Nashi's victory. We will stop the embassy blockade because no one is left there," he said.

NATO expressed its deep concern Thursday over the security of Estonian diplomats in the country's Moscow Embassy, which has been besieged by protesters since the removal of a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn.

The alliance urged Russia to end the harassment of Estonian diplomats, which it said was an outrage.

Protests in Tallinn, mostly by ethnic Russians, left one Russian dead and hundreds under arrest. Moscow said the protests were "a natural reaction" and accused Estonian police of human rights violations. Foreign Minister Lavrov demanded an investigation into the killing of Dmitry Ganin and immediate access to the detained Russian protesters.

Grave human rights violations in Estonia are a result of the EU and NATO's indifference and tacit consent, Russia's ambassador to the OSCE said.

"The grave human rights violations in Estonia, which we have witnessed recently, are the result of indifference and tacit consent by the EU and NATO, the organizations that have admitted a country, which has trampled on the fundamental values of European culture and democracy," Alexei Borodavkin said.

"The blasphemous acts being perpetrated in Estonia cannot but affect Russia's relations with the EU and the North Atlantic alliance," the diplomat said in a statement published on the Foreign Ministry's Web site.

Estonia also received backing from the United States, which said it was the Baltic state's internal affair and called for dialogue.

Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said: ''We have urged the Estonian and Russian governments to maintain dialogue and respect the strong feelings on both sides.''

Casey also expressed concern ''about continuing reports of violence and harassment, including harassment of Estonian diplomatic personnel and premises, in Moscow.''

''We urge authorities in Moscow to do everything possible to reduce tensions, to carry out their responsibilities under the Vienna Convention concerning diplomatic premises and diplomats, and to avoid harsh words and escalation,'' Casey said.

Estonia, an EU and NATO member since 2004, said it had been forced to close its consulate and evacuate diplomats' families from the capital accusing Moscow of dragging its feet in curbing the unrest and, even of, orchestrating it.

Kamynin said Estonia's actions point to its desire to review the outcome of World War II.

The EU and NATO formally backed Estonia. They demanded Moscow comply with the Vienna Convention and said the Baltic state was within its rights to move the monument, known as the Bronze Soldier.

The Bronze Soldier and other Soviet-era monuments have been a source of diplomatic tensions between Moscow and Tallinn for years. They have also provoked clashes between the Russian-speaking minority and Estonian radicals, who view them as symbols of Soviet occupation that began in 1940 and ended when the Baltic state regained its independence in 1991.

Georgian Embassy

On Thursday, youth activists staged a brief rally near the Georgian embassy, a former Soviet state that has expressed its support for Estonia. Young Russia group members chanted "Down with Nazism!" and said they hoped the Georgian government's "provocative statements" were not shared by ordinary Georgians.

The parliament of the small Caucasus state, also in conflict with Russia over its NATO aspirations, said it would adopt a resolution to back Estonia.

"Russia is exerting open pressure on Estonia, exercising aggression, and Georgia must declare its formal support for the country," a lawmaker said.

Attack on Russian Embassy

Russia's diplomatic mission in Sweden was attacked early Thursday by unknown individuals who threw rocks at the compound, apparently after protestors blocked a car at the Estonian embassy belonging to the Swedish ambassador Wednesday. Sweden has filed a formal protest.

"Unknown men threw rocks into the embassy compound, where a school and a kindergarten are located. No one was injured," a Russian diplomat said by telephone, adding that no major damage had been caused either.

Swedish police said the perpetrators damaged two cars in the compound. Police also said they had stepped up security measures, but it was unclear whether the incident was linked to protests in Moscow.

Unrest in Russia broke out following violent clashes between police and Russian speakers in Estonia, which left one dead and over 150 injured, with more than 1,000 arrested.


Estonia's Defense Ministry has meanwhile said it is ready to transport the remains of a Soviet soldier exhumed from the memorial near the Bronze Soldier to his home village in northern Russia, in accordance with his daughters' wishes.

Estonian authorities began the exhumation effort and closed the memorial in the run-up to VE Day celebrations May 8. They plan to rebury the remains in a military cemetery away from the bustling central square in late June.

"The daughters of Captain [Ivan] Sysoyev have not yet filed a [formal] request with the Defense Ministry. But Estonia is ready to honor such a request, and similar requests from other relatives," the ministry said, adding it would assume the transportation costs.

Russian authorities are making sure that demonstrations in front of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow remain within the law, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Estonian counterpart.

"The Estonian minister expressed his concern over the situation near the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, and Russian law enforcement officers are doing everything possible to make sure that protesters besieging the embassy... act within the law," Lavrov told Urmas Paet over the phone.

Mikhail Margelov, speaker of the Russian upper house, called on Russian protesters to be more restrained and warned against any violence against diplomats. "Because it will undermine the positions of the negotiating sides which will have to put up with reconciliation," he said.

The Russian Embassy in Tallinn has been invited to attend a gala ceremony devoted to Victory Day, celebrated May 8 in Europe, which will include a visit to the military cemetery where the Soviet monument has been moved to. "The invitation is being considered," Maxim Kozlov, the embassy's press attache, said.

Estonia's Foreign Ministry has said it would inaugurate the monument officially in June after the remains of 13 Soviet soldiers killed in the war and buried near the original monument site have been exhumed and reburied.

Transportation links, possible economic sanctions

Last week, Russian parliamentarians urged President Vladimir Putin to sever ties with the former Soviet country, and reports emerged this week that the Russian Railways company could revise its schedule of cargo deliveries to Baltic countries, including Estonia, following damage to a railroad section. But the state-controlled railway monopoly dismissed the reports, saying cargo traffic would be unrestricted.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said possible sanctions on Russia's behalf would hardly be a serious blow to the Estonian economy. "It is not serious, and it would be more of a problem for Russia, because most of Russian transit goes via Estonia," Ansip told a news conference.

"Fortunately, thanks to double tariff duties and sanctions introduced [by Russia in post-Soviet times], 80% of investment comes into Estonia from Sweden and Finland, and only 2% from Russia," he said. "Our economy is closely linked to the Swedish and Finnish economies, and has only loose ties with Russia."

The Estonian newspaper Aripaev said Thursday Estonian travel agencies were canceling tours to Moscow and St. Petersburg over their inability to guarantee the security of tourists.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the legislature of the Leningrad Region surrounding Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, have called on all government institutions and government-run organizations to freeze financial and economic transactions with Estonia, and on all Russians to boycott Estonian goods.

Speaking at a Spring and Labor Day rally in the Russian capital Tuesday, the Moscow mayor urged a boycott against Estonia, whose government "has revealed its true Nazi face."

"We must boycott all Estonian-made goods," Yury Luzhkov said. "We should tell our business: 'Stop dealing with Estonia.'"

Flamboyant Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, deputy speaker of the lower house, has offered to fund a replica of the Tallinn memorial to be installed across the street from the Estonian embassy in Moscow.

But Russia's food safety watchdog, Rosselkhoznadzor said it has no plans to ban or restrict the import of Estonian foodstuffs into Russia in the foreseeable future.

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