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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Protest at Estonian Embassy Called Off

MTA view of pro-Kremlin demonstrators from the Estonian Embassy on Thursday. The young people ended their protest when the ambassador left for vacation.
Hours after vowing to remain camped outside the Estonian Embassy until Tallinn apologized for moving a World War II memorial, two youth groups called off their protest Thursday evening after the Estonian ambassador left the country.

"An hour ago, Marina Kaljurand flew to Estonia. It is victory for Nashi," the pro-Kremlin group's leader Vasily Yakemenko said outside Sheremetyevo airport in comments broadcast on Channel One television news.

"We will lift the blockade as the [embassy] is now just an ordinary empty Moscow building," he said.

Yakemenko said the campaign against the abuse of ethnic Russians' rights in Estonia would continue, however. He did not specify what form this campaign might take.

Young Russia, the youth organization of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, also announced an end to the protest in a statement on its web site.

Igor Tabakov / MT
Members of pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi huddling outside the embassy.
The demonstration, which also included the youth group Mestniye and other smaller groups, was in its seventh day.

The embassy's consular department announced it would open for business again soon now that the protest has ended, RIA-Novosti reported.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry announced that Kaljurand had left Moscow on vacation. "There is no political or health reason for her vacation," the ministry said in a statement.

In a meeting with reporters Thursday afternoon, Kaljurand said she had finally managed to get some sleep the night before.

"For the first few days, the music was playing 24/7 and they didn't turn it down," Kaljurand told the reporters, who had been escorted into the embassy after police photographed their ID cards. "I think tonight was the first night when they turned it down for a few hours."

"They have played all kinds of music, but no classical music and no jazz," Kaljurand said.

Igor Tabakov / MT
Demonstrators relaxing in tents Thursday beneath a defaced poster of Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand.
"These are old war songs, but adapted for the young," said Sergei Kamyshev, a Nashi activist, as he stood next to the sound system. Just a few minutes later, the war song "Katyusha" with an added dance beat came on at full blast and two teenage girls in red Nashi caps began to dance.

The protesters had smashed four windows at the embassy compound during the week, Kaljurand said. The embassy walls bear the stains of eggs hurled by the activists. But the demonstration organizers blame the vandalism on provocateurs.

Embassy staff faced harassment whenever they emerged from the compound. Kaljurand's car was mobbed when she left Thursday. The ambassador's conference on Wednesday was stormed by activists from Nashi and Young Russia, who were met by embassy bodyguards with pepper spray.

The protesters spoke emotionally about the Estonian government's decision to relocate a war memorial from central Tallinn to a military cemetery.

"We demand an apology and the return of the statue," Ivan Golubov, 18, a student from the northern city of Kondopoga and a member of Nashi, said Thursday afternoon.

Igor Tabakov / MT
Kaljurand trying to relax Thursday as the protest continues on the streets.
"If they can find a clause to remove the statue, then we can find one to remove the embassy," said Maria Shapovalova, a spokesman for Mestniye, a Moscow regional youth organization that last year conducted raids on local markets in a search for illegal immigrants.

During the protest, activists blocked off both sides of the embassy, which faces Maly Kislovsky Pereulok and Kalashny Pereulok.

As the days passed, the several hundred protesters brought in portable toilets, one bearing the sign "The New Estonian Embassy." An Internet-ready computer was set up and free food and drinks were provided.

This kind of organization and the groups' links to the Kremlin have led some to ask whether the protest was officially sanctioned.

"It is clear that the actions in front of the embassy are very well-organized and very well-orchestrated," said Kaljurand. "I think the money has to come from somewhere. But of course, I am not in a position to accuse anybody specific."

When Kaljurand exited the embassy on Thursday, protesters tried to stop her car from leaving. At least 10 cars followed the ambassador to the airport, apparently to make sure she got on the plane.

One protester called The Moscow Times to ask for a lift to Sheremetyevo.

Ten activists were arrested at the airport, Interfax reported.