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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minister Quits Over Soldiers' Residency

TALLINN, Estonia -- Estonia's Minister for European Affairs Endel Lippmaa resigned on Tuesday in a protest over a government decision to give retired Soviet military officers residence in the Baltic nation.

Lippmaa said he opposed the decision to grant temporary residence permits to over 4,000 retired Soviet military officers who served in the KGB and other intelligence units.

The Baltic News Service reported that the government had accepted Lippmaa's resignation.

"This decision creates a situation in which we have far more Russian officers than Estonian military officers," Lippmaa, 67, said in a letter to the press.

"The huge number of former Russian Army officers who stay in Estonia will complicate the integration process [of Estonia] with the European Union and NATO."

Estonia inherited a large Russian-speaking population when it quit the Soviet Union in 1991.

Estonia's treatment of its Russian-speaking minority, which comprises over one-third of the population, is a thorny issue which has soured its relations with its huge neighbor.

Most of Estonia's Russian-speakers have been excluded from the political process and denied citizenship on the grounds that they are Soviet-era "colonists" who must prove their loyalty to independent Estonia.

More than 15,000 retired Soviet and Russian officers have already received five-year residence permits but not citizenship as part of a deal which led to the withdrawal of Russian forces from Estonia two years ago.

The government on July 10 extended temporary six-month permits to 4,000 retired officers with links to the KGB and other Soviet-era intelligence services whose status has yet to be determined.

The decision has provoked protests from Estonian nationalists who view the officers as a potential "fifth column."