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Russia declares Estonian PM 'wanted' in war memorials spat

Kaja Kallas has led Estonia since 2021 (Ludovic MARIN)
Kaja Kallas has led Estonia since 2021 (Ludovic MARIN)

Russia declared Estonian leader Kaja Kallas and several other European officials as "wanted" on Tuesday over their alleged involvement in the destruction of Soviet-era war memorials.

The monuments, some of which commemorate the Red Army, had long been controversial in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and seen by many as symbols of their time under Soviet occupation.

The three Baltic states began removing and demolishing some of them in response to Russia's full-scale assault on Ukraine in 2022, prompting outrage in Moscow.

Kallas appeared on the Russian interior ministry's wanted list early on Tuesday, along with Estonian state secretary Taimar Peterkop and a number of other officials.

They were listed in connection with the "destruction of monuments to Soviet soldiers", Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

"Crimes against the memory of the liberators of the world from Nazism and fascism must be punished. And this is just the beginning," she added.

Kallas, a staunch critic of Russia and its Ukraine offensive, said the move was unsurprising.

"Their scare tactics won't change our actions," she said.

Among those also added was Karol Nawrocki, the head of Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, and Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys.

Kairys also criticised Russia's decision.

"The regime is doing what it has always done: it is trying to stifle freedom... and to continue to create its own version that is at odds with facts or logic," he told AFP.

- 'Total Russophobia' -

The move marks a further worsening in relations between Russia and the Baltic states, all of which are members of the European Union and Western-led NATO military alliance.

The Kremlin said those listed had taken "hostile actions" against Russia's historical memory.

"These are the people who are responsible for decisions that are actually an abuse of historical memory," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia downgraded its diplomatic relations with Estonia in January 2023 and ordered the country's ambassador to leave Russia, accusing the Baltic country of "total Russophobia."

All three Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- had already expelled Russian diplomats from their countries amid tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.

Their relations with Moscow have remained tense since they gained independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they always viewed as an occupying power.

While the hundreds of monuments built during the Soviet era had long been a sensitive subject in the three countries, Russia's assault on Ukraine led to a full-scale push for their removal.

The conflict has raised fears of a possible armed confrontation with Russia, with all three Baltic states boosting spending on their military and strengthening border defences.

All three are home to a sizeable Russian minority.

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