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Estonian-Russian Relations Still Sour As Protests End

Tensions were high outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow this week (file photo) (AFP) May 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The scene outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow was calm today following the suspension of angry protests.

Members of Pro-Kremlin youth groups had surrounded the embassy since April 27 to protest the removal of a Soviet war memorial from the center of Estonia's capital.

The groups on May 3 announced they were lifting the picket hours after Estonia's ambassador to Russia, Marina Kaljurand, left Moscow for vacation.

"Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand left yesterday for a holiday for two weeks," embassy spokesman Franek Persidski told RFE/RL today. "This holiday was planned, and was postponed for a week because of the events around the embassy. Yesterday she left for the holiday for two weeks because the situation was such that it allowed for her to leave."

Weeklong Protests

The protesters described Kaljurand's decision to leave the city as "a victory," according to dpa.

The embassy became the focal point of Russian anger over the removal of the Bronze Soldier monument in Tallinn, which was preceded by two days of violence in the Estonian capital that left one ethnic Russian dead and more than 150 people wounded.

The ensuing protests in Moscow led the Estonian Embassy to close its consular section on May 2. The same day, demonstrators disrupted a press conference held by Kaljurand in Moscow and damaged her official car.

The situation prompted the United States, the European Union, the European Commission, and NATO to call on Russia to abide by international conventions on the treatment of diplomatic staff.

Consular services were resumed at the embassy today following the suspension of the protests.

"Right now, it's quiet and calm, there are no protesters around," Persidski said. "The embassy has been working all this time. We were just forced to close our consular section because of the security situation around the embassy."

Bad Blood

Tensions are still high over the issue, however, and relations between Russia and Estonia have soured considerably.

In the latest exchange, Estonia's foreign minister accused Russia of acting as if the Soviet Union still existed.

In comments published today by the Swedish daily "Svenska Dagbladet," Urmas Paet said Moscow did not accept that its "former colonies" gained independence after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

On May 3, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the removal of the monument has had "serious negative consequences" for bilateral ties. Lavrov also criticized the European Union for supporting Estonia, saying this contradicts European values.

There have also been calls in Russia, from politicians and businesspeople, to boycott Estonian goods.

The spiraling dispute prompted Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on May 2 to call on Russia to "remain civilized," adding that "it is customary in Europe that differences...are solved by diplomats and politicians, not on the streets or by computer attacks."

Website Attacks Decried

Estonian officials have claimed that cyber attacks on Estonian government websites have been traced to Russian government servers -- and even to the office of the Russian president.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told Ilves in a telephone conversation that the computer attacks constituted "pressure on an independent country" and were "not acceptable," according to a statement released by Estonian president's office today.

She also "confirmed the support of the United States for Estonia and expressed deep concern about Russia's behavior toward its neighboring country."

The spokesman for the Estonian Embassy in Moscow told RFE/RL today that the website it operates has been attacked in the past week.

"Right now, it's up again and running," Persidski said. "But our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Urmas Paet, made a statement couple of days ago that there are attacks from Russian governmental organizations against Estonian websites. I cannot confirm whether we've had this problem here -- whether our website is being attacked from the same sources -- but I can say that we've had these attacks from the Russian side these days."

The Bronze Soldier monument, which honors Red Army soldiers who died fighting in World War II, is seen by Estonians as a symbol of the Soviet occupation. The country's large Russian-speaking minority, however, sees the monument as symbolic of the Soviet Union's role in defeating Nazi Germany.

The monument was moved, along with the remains of 12 Soviet soldiers, to a military cemetery in Tallinn on April 30.

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