For six days activists from the Kremlin-endorsed Nashi youth group have harassed Estonian diplomatic officials, climaxing in yesterday's activities where a press conference held by the Estonian ambassador Marina Kaljurand was stormed by dozens of the teens who are too young to remember the USSR.
Kaljurand was saved only by her bodyguard's mace which kept the crowds at bay. Yesterday also her car and the car of the Swedish ambassador were attacked, prompting diplomatic protests from Sweden, the EU, NATO, and the US State Department for Russia to honor its obligations under the Vienna Convention of 1961.
Today even Finnish President Tarja Halonen weighed in, calling the situation "grave." She will also meet with the EU presidency, currently held by Germany this week.
But why is the EU so concerned? I mean a ripped flag and marauding gang of teenagers are reprehensible, but it's not like they've stormed the embassy just yet. However, I think that the EU has seen the "Putin Youth" as a problem for quite some time, and they are using this opportunity where one of their own, Estonia, is under attack, to settle some things with Russia.
As The Moscow Times reports, Britain has come under target from Nashi in the past as well:
So the EU is quite aware that a Kremlin-endorsed youth group has the potential to cripple its diplomatic missions in Russia, and that the Russian authorities -- as in the case of Britain and Estonia -- have been slow moving and reluctant to reel them in.
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.
The question for the EU is that whether the Russian authorities turn their Nashi attack dogs on any country that draws the ire of Russian state-owned television? And will their ambassadors continue to be safe when the hordes of Putin Youth are growing bolder -- attacking cars, breaking up press conferences, physically threatening the safety of foreign diplomats.
Who will be next? Poland, perhaps? Or will it be the Czechs? Maybe it will be the Swedes if they have too many concerns about the pipeline deal? Or the Finns if they flirt too much with NATO? Russia has a very clear obligation under the Vienna Conventions. The EU will find out soon whether or not it has decided to ignore its commitments to that treaty too.