Estonia calls for EU help on Russia embassy siege

Andrew Rettman
May 2, 2007

Estonia has appealed for EU support in an escalating row with Russia over its relocation of a Soviet-era war monument, after street protests in Tallinn last weekend and amid an ongoing blockade of the Estonian embassy in Moscow.

“The issue of the Bronze soldier and vandalism in Tallinn is a matter for Estonia, but the coordinated activity of Russia against Estonia is a matter for the whole EU,” Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet said on Tuesday (1 May), AFP reports.

The minister called for a “vigorous” reaction from Brussels. “This could mean suspending different talks between the European Union and Russia or not commencing them at all. The postponement of the European Union-Russia summit should be also given full consideration.”

He accused Russian diplomats of helping organise last weekend’s violent demonstrations in Tallinn, which saw 1,100 arrests and one death, and said Russian MPs have falsely reported that Estonia is torturing ethnic Russian prisoners.

“Those keeping our embassy in Moscow under total siege are paid a salary from the Kremlin,” Mr Paet said.

About 500 protestors from pro-Kremlin youth movements such as “Nasi” – which means “ours” – have ringed the Estonian mission since last Friday, blockading 12 Estonian diplomatic staff inside and vandalising the building as Russian police look on.

“We have consulted with our EU colleagues about the steps we can take together with our partners,” Estonia’s ambassador in Russia, Marina Kaliurand, told Russian radio, after saying her contacts with Russian officials proved fruitless.

The dispute has also seen Estonian prime minister Andrus Asnip cancel an 8 May meeting with ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who now works for Russian firm Gazprom and has criticised the Bronze soldier move, Polish press reports.

Luzhkov calls for boycott

Meanwhile, influential Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov on Tuesday spoke out against Estonia and Poland, even as Nasi activists began pitching roadside tents near customs checkpoints on the Estonia-Russia border.

“When we see what is being done to Russia in Estonia and Poland we should not just protest, we should solve the problem,” Luzhkov said at a 1 May rally, saying people should boycott “all things Estonian” and calling the Bronze soldier move “fascistic.”

Last week, Russia’s first deputy prime minister and potential Putin successor Sergei Ivanov made similar remarks, while promising to build new Russian ports on the Baltic Sea to punish Tallinn by taking away Russia transit cargo income.

The soldier row comes less than three weeks ahead of an EU-Russia summit in Samara on 18 May, which is to take place in what some EU politicians are calling the worst period in EU-Russia relations since the Cold War.

EU-Russia relations strained

The two sides cannot agree on US plans to site a new missile base in Poland and the Czech republic or how to go forward on Kosovo, while Poland is continuing to veto talks on an EU-Russia bilateral treaty over an 18-month old food trade dispute.

The Bronze soldier was moved on Monday from Tallinn city centre to a war cemetery where it was reinstalled amid full military honours. The 1947 statue commemorates Russia’s liberation of Estonia from Nazi Germany in 1944.

To many Russians – including the more than 300,000 ethnic Russians living in Estonia today – the Soviet Union’s contribution to the World War II effort, which saw more than 23 million Soviet deaths, is sacred ground.

But to Estonians the statue symbolises post-WWII Soviet oppression, which saw tens of thousands of Estonians deported and killed, amid suspicion the current Russian reaction is a form of campaigning before the 2008 Russian elections.