World News

Russian protesters "lay siege" to Estonian embassy

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Estonia’s ambassador to Moscow says she is besieged inside her own embassy.

Police walk past flags of Kremlin-loyal youth organisations as they patrol the Estonian embassy in Moscow picketed by protesters May 3, 2007 amid growing tensions between Russia and Estonia. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

Sitting in a leather armchair in her office as the sound of protesters’ chants filtered through the windows, Marina Kaljurand said that during the night they had thrown stones at the building, smashing four windows.

“(The protesters) are deciding who is let in and who is not,” she told two reporters who were escorted past crowd control barriers into the embassy after a Russian policeman had photographed their identity documents.

“We calculate each and every time if someone has to leave the embassy or not and we try to keep that movement very small until Russia can guarantee the security of all our staff.”

About 10 Estonian diplomats, including the ambassador, sleep at the embassy.

The protesters demand Estonia apologise for moving a bronze statue of a Red Army soldier -- revered in Russia as a symbol of its huge sacrifices in World War Two -- from its spot in central Tallinn.

The embassy, a two-storey mansion built in 1903 by a wealthy merchant, has now become the front line in a dispute that has sent ripples across Europe.

Related Coverage

As the protest entered its seventh day on Thursday, about 80 protesters milled around the embassy, in a quiet side-street, as a handful of police looked on. More protesters dozed in tents along the pavement.

Plastered on walls along the street were posters with Kaljurand’s picture and a small moustache scrawled over her top lip. “Wanted: the ambassador of a fascist state,” they said.


Most of the protesters are from Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth group that has official endorsement.

They are well-equipped. One tent housed a makeshift Internet cafe. A generator was supplying electricity for the computers, and for a row of water coolers.

Four portable lavatories had been set up and patriotic music was blaring from enormous loudspeakers.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

“Of course psychologically it is very difficult to work under these conditions,” said 44-year-old Kaljurand.

On Wednesday, her bodyguards used pepper spray on protesters who stormed a news conference where she was due to speak. Earlier, her car was mobbed as she left the embassy. Diplomats’ children have been sent home to Estonia.

Outside, a group of protesters bussed in by Nashi organisers on Saturday from Lipetsk, about 400 km (248.5 miles) south of Moscow, were chatting quietly.

“We want them (the Estonians) to return the monument to where it was and to apologise,” Alexei Safarov, an 18-year-old student, told Reuters.

They all denied they were being paid to protest. “We came here to defend our country, not for money,” said 17-year-old Darya Kopkova, also from Lipetsk.

But inside the embassy, Kaljurand said there was more to the protest than a spontaneous expression of anger.

“It is clear that the actions in front of the embassy are very well organised and very well orchestrated,” she said.

“I think the money has to come from somewhere. But of course, I am not in a position to accuse anybody specific.”