May 2, 2007 / 12:20 PM / 13 years ago

Russia to cut Estonia fuel transit amid statue row

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Deliveries of Russian oil products to Estonia may be disrupted, Russia’s state railway operator said on Wednesday against the backdrop of a furious political row with the Baltic state over a World War Two monument.

The leader of the Kremlin-loyal youth organisation 'Nashi' (Ours) Vasiliy Yakimenko (R) shouts anti-Estonian slogans minutes before the start of a news conference by Estonia's ambassador in Moscow in the press centre at a Moscow newspaper May 2, 2007. Russian protesters demonstrating against the removal of a Soviet war memorial in Tallinn on Wednesday broke into a hall where Estonia's ambassador to Moscow Marina Kaljurand was to hold a news conference. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Russian state railways said planned maintenance on the railway link could lead to disruption in the delivery of oil products. Russia has in the past been accused of using its energy resources as a political weapon against its neighbors.

“We haven’t imposed any economic sanctions against Estonia and have no plans to do so. But from May 1, we plan repair works. We therefore plan to change the delivery schedule,” said a spokeswoman for Russian state railways.

Russia supplies fuel oil, diesel and gasoline by rail to Estonia. Most of it is then re-exported to markets in northern Europe from Estonia’s Baltic Sea ports.

Also on Wednesday pro-Kremlin youths stormed a news conference where Estonia’s ambassador was to appear. Her bodyguards sprayed a gas to disperse the protesters.

The bitter row over the relocation of the statue of a Red Army soldier has provoked riots in Estonia’s capital and triggered a six-day protest outside the embassy in Moscow that diplomats say amounts to a blockade.

The European Commission voiced concern and said the EU, of which Estonia is a member, would raise the matter with Russia.

“A dispassionate dialogue is recommended in the highly emotional situation with regard to the Soviet war graves in Estonia,” the EU presidency said in a statement.

About 25 demonstrators shouting “shame on Estonia” and “fascism will not be allowed” burst into the hall where Estonian ambassador Marina Kaljurand was expected to speak to reporters.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said gas was sprayed, bringing on fits of coughing in anyone who inhaled it.

“ATTACK ON THE EU”

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip discussed the protests in Moscow by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose nation holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

“This is a well-coordinated and flagrant intervention with the internal affairs of Estonia,” Ansip told parliament.

“We have turned to the European Union and we ask them to take immediate action. Attacking one member state means an attack against the entire European Union,” he added.

The row began last week when Estonia’s government moved the Red Army statue from central Tallinn to a cemetery, saying it created a public order risk.

Russia reacted furiously, saying Estonia was desecrating the memory of the Soviet troops killed while driving German troops out of the Baltic during World War Two.

One person died in rioting in Tallinn between Russian-speaking Estonians and police. But the focus for the dispute has now switched to Moscow.

Youths picketing the Estonian embassy held posters depicting the ambassador with a moustache scrawled over her face. “Wanted — the ambassador of a fascist state!”, the posters read.

Russia’s foreign ministry said it would meet its commitments to safeguard the embassy and its staff. But chief spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said Estonia was to blame.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“Passions have been brought to the boil and we believe the blame for that rests entirely with the Estonian side,” he said.

Sweden’s embassy to Moscow said it had protested to Russian authorities after its ambassador’s car was kicked and blocked in by protesters as he leave the Estonian embassy on Wednesday.

Two of Russia’s biggest supermarket chains, Seventh Continent and Kopeika, confirmed they had removed Estonian goods from their shelves. Russian officials had called for a consumer boycott over the monument row.

Additional reporting by Patrick Lannin in Stockholm and Dmitry Solovyov, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Anton Doroshev in Moscow

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