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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Stands Tough in Statue Feud

Escalating a political crisis over Estonia's relocation of a Soviet war memorial, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday brushed aside European and U.S. criticism and urged Estonia to stop "provocative action."

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called his Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet late Wednesday to warn him of the "serious negative consequences" of the memorial's relocation, the ministry said in a statement Thursday.

Lavrov "called on the Estonian leadership to refrain from provocative actions that may further exacerbate the situation," the ministry said.

The ministry also summoned envoys from Germany, the European Union and Portugal to express "deep bewilderment" about what it termed the "lack of a principled assessment by the European Union of the actions of the Tallinn government."

Moscow and the ethnic Russians who make up about a third of Estonia's population have protested the statue's removal to a military cemetery last weekend. One Russian was killed and hundreds were arrested during rioting in Tallinn.

In his conversation with Paet, Lavrov demanded immediate access to detained Russian citizens, the ministry said.

The Russian Embassy in Tallinn said Thursday that its diplomats were still being denied access to detained Russians, Interfax reported.

Alexei Borodavkin, Russia's permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the "blatant human rights violations in Estonia" indicated "indifference and connivance by the EU and NATO, organizations that have given membership to a country that tramples on the values upon which European culture and democracy rest."

NATO and the European Union criticized Moscow for failing to protect Estonian diplomats and the embassy in Moscow, the focus of weeklong demonstrations by pro-Kremlin youth activists.

NATO said Thursday that it was "deeply concerned by threats to the physical safety of Estonian diplomatic staff, including the ambassador, in Moscow. "These actions are unacceptable, and must be stopped immediately," it said in a statement.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Estonian authorities were within their rights to move the monument. He also expressed concern "about continuing reports of violence and harassment, including harassment of Estonian diplomatic personnel and premises, in Moscow."

Moscow police said they were doing everything necessary to ensure order.

Reuters, AP, MT