Russia declared Estonian leader Kaja Kallas and several other European officials as “wanted” on Tuesday over their alleged involvement in the destruction of Soviet-era war memorials.
The monuments, some of which commemorate the Red Army, had long been controversial in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and seen by many as symbols of their time under Soviet occupation.
The three Baltic states began removing and demolishing some of them in response to Russia’s full-scale assault on Ukraine in 2022, prompting outrage in Moscow.
Russia said it had added several people to its wanted list in response to the “destruction of monuments to Soviet soldiers”.
“Crimes against the memory of the liberators of the world from Nazism and fascism must be punished. And this is just the beginning,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
The Kremlin said those declared wanted had taken “hostile actions against historical memory” and Russia.
“These are the people who are responsible for decisions that are actually an abuse of historical memory,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Among those added were Estonian state secretary Taimar Peterkop, as well as Karol Nawrocki, the head of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance.
Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys, who was also added to the list, accused Russia of distorting facts.
“The regime is doing what it has always done: it is trying to stifle freedom… and to continue to create its own version that is at odds with facts or logic,” he told AFP.
The move marks a further worsening in relations between Russia and the Baltics, all of which are now members of the European Union and Western-led NATO military alliance.
Russia downgraded its diplomatic relations with Estonia in January 2023 and ordered the country’s ambassador to leave Russia, accusing the Baltic country of “total Russophobia.”
All three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — had already expelled Russian diplomats from their countries amid tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.
Their relations with Moscow have remained tense since they gained independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they always viewed as an occupying power.
While the hundreds of monuments built during the Soviet era had long been a sensitive subject in the three countries, Russia’s assault on Ukraine led to a full-scale push for their removal.
The conflict has also raised fears of a possible armed confrontation with Russia, with all three Baltic states boosting spending on their military and strengthening border defences.
The three countries are home to a sizeable Russian minority, which has become a flashpoint in tensions with Moscow.
Earlier in February, Moscow summoned diplomats from its three Baltic neighbours after accusing the states of trying to “sabotage” next month’s Russian presidential election.
It accused the three states of ignoring Russian requests to provide security for voting stations at its embassies on their soil.