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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nashi Youth Chase Estonian Envoy

ReutersPro-Kremlin demonstrators chasing after Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand's car as she leaves a news conference in central Moscow on Wednesday.
About 40 pro-Kremlin youth activists stormed the offices of the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper Wednesday to break up a news conference called by Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand and demand that Estonia apologize for its relocation of a Soviet monument in Tallinn.

It was the most volatile confrontation in Moscow in the weeklong protests over the monument. Estonia accused Russia of failing to protect the safety of foreign diplomats, while the European Commission urged Russia to respect diplomatic conventions. In a related incident, the Swedish ambassador to Russia complained to the Foreign Ministry over harassment by protesters near the Estonian Embassy.

Kaljurand was scheduled to hold the news conference at 12 p.m. Wednesday. But activists from the youth groups Nashi and Young Russia chanting "Fascism won't pass" barged past security guards at Argumenty i Fakty and were met by the ambassador's bodyguards, who used pepper spray to fend them off.

The pepper spray hung in the air for several minutes, leaving protesters and journalists coughing and gagging.

Kaljurand was in an undisclosed room in the building during the confrontation, and the news conference went on an hour later after police and security guards cleared the building, dragging several activists outside.

Kaljurand told reporters that her bodyguards were forced to use the pepper spray to defend her.

Denis Sinyakov / Reuters
Yakemenko, right, shouting minutes before Kaljurand's news conference.
"There was an attack by the organization Nashi," she said. "Apparently the attack was aimed against me, but nobody got through to me. Nobody touched me."

Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko said he had planned to ask Kaljurand six questions, but the group decided to force its way in after it was denied entrance into the building. "We did it this way because we want to be heard by Estonian authorities, who must apologize for what they did," Yakemenko said.

One activist said he and several colleagues entered the building through a bathroom window.

Yakemenko was clearly coordinating the moves on the ground, though he appeared to be receiving instructions from someone he called "Yury Alexandrovich" on his cell phone.

He told two girls who were complaining to him about possibly being detained by riot police that it was all right and "even good" to be detained.

The protesters chased Kaljurand's car down Myasnitskaya Ulitsa chanting "Go home" after she left the offices following the news conference.

City police spokeswoman Olga Chugunova said 11 people were detained in connection with the incident and released after being fined for violating rules for demonstrations.

She said she could not comment on whether Nashi members had permission to set up more than a dozen tents outside the Estonian Embassy, where they have been holding around-the-clock protests for six days.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry protested the incident in a statement, saying "physical attacks" on Estonian diplomats are "unprecedented and absolutely unjustifiable." Late Tuesday, the ministry chiding Russia for "attacks" that are "virtual, psychological and real," alluding to Estonian charges that its government web sites have been targeted by Russian hackers.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik issued a statement calling on Russia to "try to remain civilized" in the dispute over the monument.

Swedish Ambassador Johan Molander filed a complaint with the Foreign Ministry after his car was attacked by protesters outside the Estonian Embassy compound following his Wednesday morning meeting with Kaljurand, Swedish Embassy spokeswoman Christina Johannesson said.

"The flag was torn off of the car and the sideview mirror was damaged," Johannesson said. "Russian police tried to intercede, but there were too few of them and they were too late."

Molander was blocked in his car for about 15 minutes before managing to leave. He and his driver were uninjured.

Molander personally went to the Foreign Ministry to file a complaint and "demand an explanation and investigation" into the incident, Johannesson said. The Swedish Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Stockholm to lodge a similar appeal, she said.

Young Russia, whose members took part in blocking Molander's car, issued an apology to the Swedish Embassy following the incident, reported.

The European Commission issued a statement Wednesday expressing "deep concern regarding the violence of demonstrations" near the Estonian Embassy and urging Russian authorities "to fulfill their obligations under the Vienna Convention and allow EU embassies to function properly and European representatives to be protected adequately."

One pregnant diplomat at the Estonian Embassy has left Russia, embassy spokesman Franek Persidski said. He insisted, however, that no mass evacuation was taking place and that the embassy continued to operate. "We are not evacuating," Persidski said.

The embassy's consular service has suspended operations, and local staff have been asked not to come to work, he said.

The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Russia would protect the Estonian diplomatic mission under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

"But will still believe that the intense emotions and reaction of civil society in Russia was provoked by the actions of the Estonian side with the relocation" of the Soviet monument, ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said, Interfax reported.

This is not the first time that Nashi members have been accused of haranguing foreign diplomats in Moscow.

The British Foreign Office in December appealed to the Foreign Ministry to end the harassment of British Ambassador Anthony Brenton by Nashi members after Brenton participated in a conference organized by the opposition coalition The Other Russia at the Renaissance Moscow Hotel.

In the weeks and months following the conference, Nashi members periodically picketed outside the British Embassy, demanding that Brenton apologize for promoting fascism, tailed his car and disrupted his speeches.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov invited Yakemenko, the Nashi leader, to the ministry in January to ask his activists to stop the harassment, while adding that he respected Nashi's constitutional right to protest.

Staff Writer Kevin O'Flynn contributed to this report.