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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Violent Protests are Just Fine in Russia . . . As Long as You're Pro-Kremlin

Russia continues on its crazed neo-Soviet path to once again alienate the entire world. The Associated Press reports that the Kremlin has no problem allowing violent protests, as long as you are pro-Kremlin. If you are Other Russia doing this stuff, you meet 10,000 stormtroopers.

Young Russians staged raucous protests in Moscow on Wednesday to denounce neighboring Estonia for removing a Soviet war memorial from its capital, and the Estonian ambassador said pro-Kremlin activists tried to attack her as she arrived at a news conference. Sweden said its ambassador also was assaulted as he left the Estonian Embassy after a meeting Wednesday, saying protesters surrounding the compound kicked his car and tore off a Swedish flag. The protests were the most disorderly in Russia since Estonian authorities took the bronze statue of a Red Army soldier from a downtown square Friday. The monument, which commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, was put in an Estonian military cemetery this week.

Ethnic Russians also have rioted in Estonia over the removal, which they see as the latest discriminatory move by ethnic Estonians since the Baltic nation broke away from the Soviet Union. The action has worsened tensions between Estonia and Russia. Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand summoned journalists to the offices of a Moscow newspaper to demand that Russian authorities increase security at the Estonian Embassy, which has been besieged by activists since late last week. She was met by a crowd of protesters, and she said her bodyguards had to use a pepper-style gas to protect her. The news conference was delayed for an hour while police dragged protesters from the building. “Apparently the attack was aimed against me, but nobody got through to me. Nobody touched me,” Kaljurand told reporters. Protesters earlier tried to block Kaljurand as her car left the embassy compound, not far from the Kremlin, chanting “NATO lackeys, hands off the Russian soldier!” As she arrived at the Argumenti I Fakti newspaper, dozens of activists with the youth group Nashi and other groups mobbed her and stormed into the building. A newspaper official said several youths broke into an editor's office, ransacked it and shouted: “Let's get her.” After the rowdy protests, the European Union urged Moscow to honor its obligations under diplomatic treaties to protect the Estonian Embassy. European Commission spokeswoman Christiane Hohmann criticized violence at the embassy.

In Tallinn, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves issued a statement urging Russia to calm the heat in the dispute over the monument “I turn to Russia, Estonia's neighbor, with a clear message: Try to remain civilized!” he said. Ilves also lashed out at cyber attacks on Estonian government Internet sites that he and Kaljurand said were being waged by computer hackers linked to the Kremlin. “It is customary in Europe that differences ... are solved by diplomats and politicians, not on the streets or by computer attacks,” Ilves said. There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin to the accusation. The leader of Nashi, Vasily Yakemenko, said activists barged into Kaljurand's news conference because organizers would not allow them to ask questions. “If we didn't come here today, our voices wouldn't be heard,” he said. Protesters have camped out on the sidewalk across from the Estonian Embassy, erected barriers trying to prevent diplomats from coming and going and staged loud demonstrations. Over the weekend, activists pasted mock “Wanted” posters with Kaljurand's face on buildings in the neighborhood.

Embassy spokesman Franek Persidski said some Estonian diplomats and their families were leaving Russia, but insisted that no mass evacuation was taking place and that the embassy continued to operate. The embassy's consular service has suspended operations. At the delayed news conference, Kaljurand said some of the cyber attacks against Estonian government Web sites have come from Internet addresses registered to the Kremlin. “Based on information of the Estonian side, the attacks are being carried out from IP address of the Kremlin administration, among others,” she said. “The European Union will take concrete measures with regards to Russia.” The head of the Russian Orthodox Church said Wednesday that it was immoral for the Estonian authorities to move the war monument. “Fighting against the dead, against the soldiers who have always been honored by all nations, is the most unworthy deed,” Patriarch Alexy II was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying. “It is immoral to profane the memory of the dead.”

As the result of this barbaric Russian action, the EU is considering the cancellation of its summit with Russia. EUObserver reports:

Attacks on the Estonian embassy in Moscow have sparked a conversation in Brussels on whether or not to postpone the EU-Russia summit later this month, as prospects for launching talks on a new EU-Russia treaty become increasingly worse. "We are not excluding it. This might happen. It depends on the Russian reaction," the Latvian ambassador to the EU, Eduards Stiprais, told EUobserver on the summit postponement option after an EU ambassadors' meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (2 May) broached the issue. "It's difficult to understand how the Russian law enforcement authorities were able to disperse so effectively some peaceful protestors a few weeks ago, but are now unable to maintain law and order on the streets of Moscow," Mr Stiprais added. "The ball is in the Russian court." An Estonian diplomat explained that both Tallinn and the German EU presidency are still expecting the summit to go ahead at this stage, with Estonia "happy" the EU has shown solidarity and with Germany arguing the summit is the best forum for handling EU-Russia gripes. "We wouldn't like to veto anything, we are hoping for the best," the Estonian official explained. The question also came up at a meeting of the 27 EU commissioners the same day, with Estonian commissioner Siim Kallas briefing colleagues on remarks by Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Paet, who said on Tuesday the EU should give "full consideration" to putting the summit off. "A week is a long time in politics," a commission official said on the prospects for the EU-Russia meeting in Samara on 18 May. "I didn't sense any appetite for postponing the summit at today's commission meeting," he added.

Russia's predictable response: energy blackmail, cutting off oil shipments to Estonia. In other words, cold war all over again. The USSR, with twice Russia's population, couldn't handle the first one. Yet Russia wants a rematch. That's Russia in a nutshell. And we do mean nut.

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