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Russia has put the prime minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, on a wanted list, the first time the Kremlin has sought criminal charges against a foreign leader nearly two years since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Kallas is listed as wanted in the Russian interior ministry’s database of suspects, independent news site Mediazona reported on Tuesday, alongside other Baltic politicians critical of the Kremlin and its war, including Lithuania’s culture minister and dozens of lawmakers in Latvia.
The ministry did not say what Kallas had been charged with, but the move comes after a senior Russian law enforcement official ordered investigations of Estonia’s plan to remove a monument involving a Soviet tank last year.
“These people are responsible for decisions to essentially mock historical memory. And these people are taking hostile acts towards hostile acts in our country,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova also implied the charges against the Baltic politicians were tied to the push to remove Soviet monuments, which gathered pace across the region after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“They must answer for their crimes against the memory of those who liberated the world from Nazism and fascism! And this is just the beginning,” Zakharova wrote on social media app Telegram.
The Estonian government agreed in the summer of 2022 to remove all Soviet monuments from public spaces. “It is important to over-emphasise that commemorating the dead is not prohibited in any way and will not be prohibited, but that it should be done in the right place and that is at a cemetery, where it can be done with dignity,” Kallas said at the time.
The popularity of the Estonian prime minister, who has put herself forward as a candidate to become the next head of Nato, was dented after it was revealed that a company part owned by her husband continued doing business in Russia in the past two years.
Russia’s charges against Kallas are part of about 700 cases against foreigners that have clear political motivations, according to Mediazona.
Nearly 400 foreigners are wanted in Russia for fighting for Ukraine in the war, a list that appears to be solely based on one post by Rybar, a popular pro-war blogger on Telegram.
A further 174 Ukrainians, including three former defence ministers and two former commanders of the armed forces, are also wanted for alleged crimes linked to the invasion.
Kaupo Rosin, head of the Estonian foreign intelligence service, warned on Tuesday that Russia would double its military presence along its border with Finland and the Baltic states in the coming years and “do everything to try to destabilise the eastern flank of Nato”.