World

Russia puts Estonia leader on wanted list over removal of Soviet-era monuments

It is the first time the Russian Interior Ministry has put a foreign leader on a wanted list.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas speaks with the media as she arrives for a Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)
Russia-Estonia Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas speaks with the media as she arrives for a Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP) (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

Estonia’s prime minister has been put on a wanted list in Russia because of her efforts to remove Soviet-era monuments in the Baltic nation, officials have said as tensions between Russia and the West soar amid the war in Ukraine.

The name of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas appeared on the Russian Interior Ministry’s list of people wanted on unspecified criminal charges.

While independent Russian news outlet Mediazona first reported that Ms Kallas was on the list on Tuesday, it said she has been on it for months.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attend a joint news conference in Stenbock House, Tallinn, Estonia (AP)
Russia Estonia Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attend a joint news conference in Stenbock House, Tallinn, Estonia (AP) (AP)

The list includes scores of officials and legislators from other Baltic nations.

Russian officials said that Ms Kallas had been put on the list because of her efforts to remove monuments from the Second World War.

Ms Kallas dismissed it as Moscow’s “familiar scare tactic”.

“Russia may believe that issuing a fictitious arrest warrant will silence Estonia,” she said.

“I refuse to be silenced. I will continue to vocally support Ukraine and advocate for the strengthening of European defences.”

Estonia and fellow Nato members Latvia and Lithuania have pulled down monuments that are widely seen as an unwanted legacy of the Soviet occupation of those countries.

Workers dismantle the memorial of the Red Army Soldiers who died during the liberation of Vilnius from Nazi invaders during the Second World War at the Antakalnis Memorial Cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania (AP)
Russia Estonia Workers dismantle the memorial of the Red Army Soldiers who died during the liberation of Vilnius from Nazi invaders during the Second World War at the Antakalnis Memorial Cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania (AP) (AP)

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, numerous monuments to Red Army soldiers have also been taken down in Poland and the Czech Republic, a belated purge of what many see as symbols of past oppression.

Moscow has denounced those moves as desecrating the memory of Soviet soldiers who fell while fighting Nazi Germany.

The inclusion of Ms Kallas, who has fiercely advocated for increased military assistance to Ukraine along with stronger sanctions against Russia, appears to reflect the Kremlin’s effort to raise the stakes in the face of Nato and European Union pressure over the war.

“Estonia and I remain steadfast in our policy: supporting Ukraine, bolstering European defence and fighting against Russian propaganda,” Ms Kallas said, pointing to her family’s history of facing Soviet repression.

“This hits close to home for me. My grandmother and mother were once deported to Siberia, and it was the KGB who issued the fabricated arrest warrants.”

It is the first time the Russian Interior Ministry has put a foreign leader on a wanted list.

Estonian Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop and Lithuanian culture minister Simonas Kairys also are on the list, which is accessible to the public, along with scores of officials and legislators from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

“This, of course, is a kind of reward for people who support Ukraine and support the fight of good against evil,” Lithuania foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said, adding that those on the list should be careful while traveling to third countries in the future.

Mika Golubovsky, editor of Mediazona’s English-language service, told The Associated Press that Kallas and other politicians from the Baltic nations have been in the Interior Ministry’s wanted database since mid-October and was the only head of state on the list.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed that Ms Kallas and Mr Peterkop were on the list because of their involvement in removing monuments.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was a response to action by Ms Kallas and others who “have taken hostile action toward historic memory and our country”.

Russia has laws criminalising the “rehabilitation of Nazism” that include punishing the desecration of war memorials.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top criminal investigation agency, has a department dealing with alleged “falsification of history” and “rehabilitation of Nazism,” which has ramped up its action since the start of the war, according to Mediazona, which broke the news on Ms Kallas’ addition to the wanted list.