Why Russia has put Estonia PM, Baltic politicians on wanted list | World News - Hindustan Times
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Why Russia has put Estonia PM, Baltic politicians on wanted list

Reuters |
Feb 13, 2024 11:38 PM IST

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all members of both the European Union and NATO, and their relations with Moscow have worsened sharply

Russian police have put Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Lithuania's culture minister and members of the previous Latvian parliament on a wanted list, according to the Russian Interior Ministry's database.

Russian President Vladimir Putin(AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin(AP)

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Kallas was wanted for the "desecration of historical memory".

Russian state agency TASS said the Baltic officials were accused of "destroying monuments to Soviet soldiers", acts that are punishable by a 5-year prison term under the Russian criminal code.

"The Kremlin now hopes this move will help to silence me and others – but it won't," Kallas said in a post on social media platform X.

"I will continue my strong support to Ukraine. I will continue to stand for increasing Europe's defence," she said, adding Russia's move was not a surprise.

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Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all members of both the European Union and NATO, and their relations with Moscow have worsened sharply since the start of the war in Ukraine nearly two years ago.

The Baltic politicians only risk being placed under arrest if they cross the Russian border, otherwise declaring them as "wanted" is unlikely to have any practical consequence.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez took to social media pltaform X, formerly known as Twitter, to express support for Kallas.

"(Russian President Vladimir) Putin's move is another proof of your courage and Estonia’s leadership in defending democracy and freedom. He won't bully us. The Spanish people and Europe stand behind you", Sanchez wrote.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022,Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have demolished most of their Soviet-era monuments, including those commemorating Soviet solders killed in World War Two.

In response, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, ordered a criminal investigation into the matter.

'ONLY THE BEGINNING'

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "This is only the beginning."

"Crimes against the memory of the world's liberators from Nazism and fascism must be prosecuted," she said.

As well as Kallas, Estonian State Secretary Taimar Peterkop, Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys and about 60 of the 100 members of the previous Latvian parliament, which ended its term in November 2022, were put on the list, according to the Russian ministry database.

Kairys told Reuters the arrest order "means I acted actively and in a principled way".

The Baltic states were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and then occupied by Nazi Germany before returning to Moscow's rule as part of the Soviet Communist bloc until they regained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Several dozen other Baltic politicians were also added to the Russian wanted list, including mayors, municipal deputies, and the former Latvian interior minister, Marija Golubeva.

The Interior Ministry database does not specify which article of the criminal code applies to those on the list.

Kallas said in 2022 that Estonian authorities would dismantle 200 to 400 such monuments. A Soviet tank commemorating the near Russian-speaking Narva town was removed in August.

In Latvia, an 84-metre structure, built to commemorate the Soviet victory in World War Two, was crushed with a bulldozer.

Tens of thousands of Russian speakers in Latvia used to gather every May 9 around the monument, but their gatherings were banned after Russia's invasion.

Lithuania removed dozens of memorials to Soviet troops in 2022, including a large group of sculptures in a Vilnius cemetery.

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