Russia declares Estonian PM Kaja Kallas 'wanted' in war memorials row

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

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas has been declared a 'wanted' person by Russia over an undisclosed criminal case. AFP
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Russia declared Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas “wanted” on Tuesday because of her efforts to remove Soviet-era Second World War monuments in the Baltic nation.

It marks a deterioration in relations between Russia and the Baltics, all of which were occupied by the former Soviet Union and have sizeable Russian minorities.

Ms Kallas’s name appeared on the Interior Ministry’s register of people wanted in connection with criminal charges. It did not specify what charges the Estonian leader was facing. The list includes scores of officials and politicians from other Baltic nations.

It is the first time the ministry has put a foreign leader on a wanted list.

The inclusion of Ms Kallas appears to reflect the Kremlin’s effort to up the ante in the face of pressure from Nato allies as the Ukraine war nears its two-year mark.

Ms Kallas has been a strong supporter of Ukraine, spearheading efforts to increase military assistance to Kyiv and tighten sanctions against Russia.

She also has angered Moscow by pushing for the removal of monuments to Soviet Second World War soldiers. Russia has laws criminalising the “rehabilitation of Nazis” that include clauses for punishing the desecration of war memorials.

Estonian Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop also features on the list, according to the register.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said they were added “over the destruction of monuments to Soviet soldiers”.

“Crimes against the memory of the liberators of the world from Nazism and fascism must be punished,” she said. "And this is just the beginning."

The Kremlin said those declared wanted had taken “hostile actions against historical memory” and Russia.

“These are the people who are responsible for decisions that are actually an abuse of historical memory,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

There was no immediate reaction from Estonia, which has viewed the monuments as unwelcome symbols of its occupation under the USSR.

'Total Russophobia'

Moscow downgraded its diplomatic relations with Estonia in January last year and ordered the country's ambassador to leave Russia, accusing the Baltic country of “total Russophobia”.

All three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – had already expelled Russian diplomats from their countries amid tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.

Their relations with Moscow have remained tense since they gained independence in the early 1990s during the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they always viewed as an occupying power.

While the hundreds of monuments built in the Soviet-era had long been derided by many in the Baltics, Russia's assault on Ukraine led to a full-scale push for their removal.

The war has also raised fears of a possible armed confrontation with Russia, with all three Baltic Nato members boosting spending on their military and strengthening border defences.

Tensions have also simmered over the rights of the Russian minority in Baltic states.

Moscow this month summoned diplomats from the three neighbours after accusing the states of trying to sabotage next month's Russian presidential election.

Moscow had accused the three states of ignoring Russian requests to provide security for voting stations at its embassies on their soil.

Updated: February 13, 2024, 12:50 PM