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  Tuesday, June 2, 2020
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Dispute between Russia and Estonia over the removal of a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn continues
A dispute between Russia and Estonia over the removal of a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn continues, with Moscow referring the case to the UN and the Baltic state seeking protection from the European Commission. Moscow has accused its former Soviet ally of "desecrating" the memory of Soviet troops killed in World War II and ongoing discrimination against ethnic Russians. Estonia, a EU and NATO member since 2004, has charged Moscow with interfering in its domestic affairs. The removal of a statue to Red Army soldiers, whom many in Estonia consider to have been occupiers, was met with protests from Estonia's Russian speakers, which later turned violent. Clashes with police left one dead and over 150 injured, with more than 1,000 arrested. A Russian diplomat said Wednesday he had raised the issue of the removal of World War II monuments in countries freed from Nazi occupation with the UN. "Russia, which paid an enormous price for victory over Nazism, cannot and will not look on as certain countries launch campaigns to dismantle monuments to Soviet soldiers, who gave their lives for the freedom not only of their own people but also of the entire world," Boris Malakhov said. He also said it was crucial to "avert any attempts to rehabilitate Nazi crimes and revive neo-Nazism in the world," echoing Moscow's earlier charges against Tallinn of glorifying Nazis, including by allowing parades by former SS fighters, while persecuting Russian war veterans. The Russian parliament, which had repeatedly opposed the move, has called for severing diplomatic ties and taking economic measures to punish the Baltic state since the statue was displaced Friday. Unrest orchestrated by Moscow Protests have spilled over to Russia, where pro-Kremlin youth activists have been picketing Estonian diplomatic missions. Protesters outside the embassy in Moscow, some of them clad in WWII uniforms, said their rally would last until Estonia apologized for what it had done. On Wednesday, young people broke into a newspaper office in central Moscow, where Estonian Ambassador Mariana Kalijurand was to give a news conference, chanting "Down with fascism!" and spraying tear gas. A group outside tore off a flag from the diplomat's car. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip qualified the incident as orchestrated by Moscow and as interference in Estonia's internal affairs. "An attack on the Estonian ambassador in Moscow, which did not have the most negative consequences only thanks to the security guards, is not a harmless joke of protesters," the premier said. Estonia's Foreign Ministry said "using force against a diplomat representing a country is outrageous and totally unacceptable and requires immediate response from the international community." The European Commission issued a resolution Wednesday, urging Russian authorities to observe the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and ensure security of the EU member's diplomatic staff. The ministry meanwhile said it had evacuated diplomats' families from Moscow: "The families of embassy officers with children have been evacuated from Moscow to Tallinn, embassy staff are continuing work." Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman said authorities had mounted a police presence near the embassy. "What is happening there is within legal frameworks, offenders have been brought to justice," Mikhail Kamynin said. The ex-Soviet state also complained about cyber attacks on the Web sites of the Estonian president, Cabinet members, and lawmakers, which prompted them to briefly block access to the sites. Story is over In a bid to end the dispute, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said Wednesday "the bronze soldier story was over." "The statue and the remains [of Soviet soldiers] buried near it will be laid to rest at a cemetery. We have to stop the exploitation of the memory of war victims to political and other disgraceful ends," he said. The Defense Ministry said earlier the remains exhumed from the memorial in the Tynismyagi square would be identified and reburied in late June, while the statue would be officially unveiled at a military cemetery on the capital's outskirts May 8, when Europe celebrates the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. The authorities put the statue at the military cemetery Monday, which helped end massive rallies in Tallinn and other cities. Authorities in Tallinn promised to investigate possible human rights violations during arrests of protesters following Russian television broadcasts of beatings and reports that hundreds had been kept in a seaport terminal. "We have received assurances of a thorough investigation into each complaint about violations of human rights in Estonia," Russian parliamentary speaker Boris Gryzlov said, referring to a group of Russian lawmakers who visited the Baltic state to study the situation on the ground. The human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the situation in Estonia and called on its leadership to respect the rights of ethnic Russians.
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