Seven Soviet monuments, including the tank, will be removed from Estonia's eastern border town Narva on Tuesday, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said on Tuesday. Delaying the decision further will only increase tensions, the government agreed.
The government made the snap decision to start the process of removing the tank at an early morning session, the prime minister told journalists at a press conference on Tuesday morning.
"Our position has been, that in order to ensure order, the tank must be removed as soon as possible before tensions and anxiety increase further," she added.
"We know it is clear that Russia wants to take advantage of this situation. How it goes depends on a lot of circumstances. The maximum that can happen is riots. We don't see that happening at the moment," said Kallas.
In total, seven monuments will be removed from the city today and Kallas said the operation is being carried out with "dignity, calmness and in accordance with the rule of law".
"Ida-Viru County is not an exceptional case, it is part of Estonia," said Kallas.
Alongside the tank, the following monuments will be removed:
- Commemorative plaques at Peetri plats,
- Red Army soldiers monument in Narva Castle Park,
- The memorial to Igor Grafov,
- The "Kolm tääki" monument in Narva-Jõesu,
- The Meriküla memorial in Narva-Jõesu,
- Additionally, the signs on the World War 2 mass grave site between the Narva River and the Victoria Bastion were adjusted to become neutral.
"We know that the Russian Federation and its special forces want to further incite tensions in Estonia, especially in Ida-Viru County, where we have a very big Russian-speaking community. Monuments have always been used by hostile forces to spread lies, and they are also officially part of Russia's security policy and foreign policy to incite propaganda lies that support their country's aggressive goals," the prime minister said.
Minister of Interior Lauri Läänemets said Tuesday's operation has been fully prepared and involves the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and Internal Security Service (KAPO).
"Both have different tasks, but the common denominator is ensuring public order. The operation will be carried out with dignity. For example, flowers or candles placed at the foot of the tank will be taken to cemeteries, they will not be thrown in the trash," said Läänemets.
"It is understandable that this operation may cause resentment and other bad feelings in some people. I urge you to remain peaceful, not to go along with provocations. Because as we have said before, the state will respond to all these provocations as necessary," Läänemets said.
PPA Director General Elmar Vaher said officers are on the scene have been called in from other regions.
"At the moment, the situation is very calm. There have been no incidents. The people who were guarding the tank were understanding, left and we did not need to use force," said Vaher.
The PPA has closed roads around the monuments and is diverting traffic.
The government took control of removing the tank after Narva City Council opted out of the decision-making process on Monday.
Estonia is currently in the middle of a debate about the future of its Soviet-era memorials, sparked by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Several have already been moved to cemeteries or museums.
Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union twice, firstly between 1940–1941 and then 1944–1991.
Editor's note: Additional information was added about the monuments slated for removal.
Editor: Helen Wright