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Russia places Estonia’s prime minister on wanted list

Russian authorities on Tuesday launched unprecedented criminal proceedings against Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, charges the leader of the Baltic state alleged were politically motivated.

The Kremlin accused Kallas, Estonian Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop and Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys of destroying or damaging monuments to Soviet monuments in memory of Soviet soldiers, Russia’s state-run Tass news reported. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the charges in a call with journalists but did not clarify when the supposed crime took place. By Wednesday, public officials from all three Baltic states were included on the wanted list.

Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, Kallas announced that Estonia would remove all of the country’s Soviet monuments from public spaces.

Kallas appears to be the first head of state placed on the Russian Interior Ministry’s wanted list by the Russian government since the full-fledged invasion began. The move, however, is likely symbolic.

On Tuesday, Kallas said on social media the move was unsurprising and proof that she was “doing the right thing” by supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia.

“Throughout history, Russia has veiled its repressions behind so-called law enforcement agencies,” Kallas said, citing the cases of her grandmother and mother, who she said were deported to Siberia after the KGB issued arrest warrants for them.

“The Kremlin now hopes this move will help to silence me and others – but it won’t. The opposite. I will continue my strong support to Ukraine,” she said.

Latvia and Lithuania responded by summoning their respective Russian ambassadors on Wednesday. Both countries’ foreign ministries issued statements condemning the move as politically motivated. Estonia summoned Russia’s charges d’affaires to the country as well.

Estonia, a former part of the Soviet Union, joined the European Union and acceded to NATO in 2004. NATO’s expansion to Russia’s border has long rankled with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who views the alliance as an existential threat.

Concern in Estonia

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine prompted deep concern in Estonia that it could be next.

A report by the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service said Russia may consider doubling the number of troops stationed on its border with the Baltic countries and increasing those on its frontier with Finland, which joined NATO last year.

When introducing the report, the service’s leader, Kaupo Rosin, said that Russia probably anticipates a conflict with the alliance within the next decade, although he played down the likelihood that would come in the form of military action.

“Estonia needs to prepare itself together with our allies. Our security and safety can be best ensured by Ukraine’s victory, Russia’s defeat and the end of Putin’s regime,” Rosin said.

Tallinn has also been a strong proponent of Europe spending more on its own defense. Responding to former US President Donald Trump’s remarks that, if reelected, he would let Russia do “whatever the hell they want” to any NATO member that doesn’t meet spending guidelines, Kallas said ”we have been advocating for doing more in defense, and that means all NATO’s members do more in defense”

“I think what the presidential candidate in America says is also something to maybe wake up the allies who haven’t done that much, so hopefully we all do more and collectively we are stronger together,” she said at a news conference on Monday alongside European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.

Estonia’s defense budget is slated to rise to more than 3% of the country’s GDP for the first time this year, well above the 2% threshold target NATO has set for members of the alliance.

Tuesday also saw Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna deliver his annual foreign policy speech, which included fiery anti-Russian remarks and a full-throated backing for Ukraine.

“No one wants to live in a world where Putins roam, kidnapping and orphaning children, attempting to cancel their neighbors and mining nuclear power plants,” he said. “Aggression must not succeed; it must not become a new acceptable reality. Otherwise, the world will become the domain of force, arrogance, callousness, authoritarianism.”

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger and Katharina Krebs contributed to this report

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