COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Estonia’s government began removing a Soviet World War II memorial near a town on Russia’s border on Tuesday as part of a wider effort prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine , to dismantle the remaining Soviet-era symbols.
Crews removed a replica of a T-34 tank that stood atop the monument outside the town of Narva in Russian-speaking Estonia. east and placed it on a truck that took it to the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi, a town north of the capital Tallinn.
The memorial commemorates the Soviet soldiers who fell in the fight against Nazi Germany during World War II. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said a neutral grave marker would replace the tank replica and that the monument outside Narva would “remain a worthy place for commemorating the dead.”
Estonia, which shares a border of nearly 300 kilometers (180 miles) with Russia, has taken a tough stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The prime minister said the removal of symbols such as the tank was necessary to protect public order and prevent Moscow from sowing discord in Estonia, a country with a significant ethnic Russian minority.
“No one wants our militant and hostile neighbor to stir up tension in our home,” Kallas said. “We will not give Russia the opportunity to use the past to disrupt the peace in Estonia.”
Like its Baltic neighborsEstonia has removed many monuments glorifying the Soviet Union or communist leaders since the country regained its independence in 1991. In 2007, the relocation of a World War II memorial of a Red Army soldier in Tallinn sparked days of rioting.
The government and many Estonians saw the Tallinn monument as a painful reminder of five decades of Soviet occupation, while some ethnic Russians saw the move as an attempt to erase their history.
After the city council in Narva decided that the replica tank should go, a crowd gathered around the monument to protest the plan. A total of seven Soviet-era monuments in Narva will be removed, the government said on Tuesday.
The city, of which 57,500 residents mainly speak Russian, is located about 210 kilometers (130 miles) east of Tallinn and is separated from the Russian city of Ivangorod by the Narva River.
Russian officials have criticized Estonia’s efforts to remove the remaining Soviet-era monuments.
“We think this is outrageous. A war with a common history, getting rid of monuments to those who saved Europe from fascism is, of course, outrageous. This makes no country look good, including Estonia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month.
Earlier this month, Estonia decided to ban tourists from neighboring Russia with a tourist visa to enter the northernmost Baltic country as a result of the war in Ukraine. The European Union, of which Estonia is a member, has already banned air travel from Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. But Russians can still travel overland to Estonia and apparently flee to other European destinations.
Follow the coverage of the AP about the war