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Russian-Estonian relations to be seriously damaged · 2007-03-24 15:45

monument to Soviet soldiers in TallinnRelations between Russia and Estonia could be seriously damaged by the removal of a monument to Soviet soldiers in Tallinn, the Russian foreign minister said Friday.

The six-foot high "Bronze Soldier" and other Soviet-era memorials have in recent years become rallying points for ethnic Russians, and clashes with Estonian nationalists near the bronze monument prompted the Estonian authorities to press for monuments "dividing society" to be removed.

"These actions will seriously harm Russian-Estonian relations," Sergei Lavrov told a news conference. "We would like to avoid it, but we believe it is necessary that organizations where Estonia is a member, including the EU, NATO and OSCE, must voice their protest against such steps."

Russia has long accused Tallinn of encouraging Nazism and discrimination against ethnic Russians, and even prompted debate on possible sanctions against Estonia,
Mosnews reports.

But Estonia's commission on wartime burials recommended March 13 removing the monument, which is part of a Soviet-era memorial, from central Tallinn to a "quieter" military cemetery, and Prime Minister Andrus Ansip announced yesterday the start of the preparation for the removal.

Some 50,000 Soviet troops perished in Estonia in 1944 when Russia liberated it from Nazi Germans and regained control of the republic, which many Estonians call Soviet occupation. The bodies are buried in 450 cemeteries and memorials across the country.

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