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Scores of European decision-makers on Russia's wanted list

Jennifer Pahlke
February 14, 2024

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is the highest-ranking foreign politician on the Russian Interior Ministry's wanted list, which lists ministers and lawmakers, as well as Ukrainian soldiers.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is seen speaking on stage
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is one of the most prominent figures on Russia's wanted listImage: Markus Scholz/dpa/picture alliance

What is known about the wanted list?

It is an official database that can be found on the Russian Interior Ministry website. It contains the names of individuals suspected of having evaded Russian justice. The Interior Ministry does not say according to which criteria the database is organized. There are currently 96,752 names on the list.

Which non-Russian nationals are named?

The database lists the names of hundreds of foreigners, including Ukrainian soldiers and fighters serving in Ukraine's International Legion.

It also lists 160 politicians, lawmakers and civil servants from Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine.

Among the most high-ranking figures named are Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Estonian Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop and Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys.

Lithuania's Culture Minister Simonas Kairys is seen from up close
Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys is also wanted by RussiaImage: dts-Agentur/picture alliance

What are they accused of?

Kallas, Peterkop and others are accused of taking "hostile actions towards historical memory" and Russia.

In response to Russia's February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Latvian parliament voted to demolish all the remaining Soviet-era monuments in Latvia, that had been erected to commemorate the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is known in Russia. This was reason enough for Russia's Interior Ministry to place 83 Latvian lawmakers — including former Latvian Interior Minister Maria Golubeva — on its wanted list.

Lithuania had already started pulling down its Soviet-era monuments in the 1990s , removing the last ones in 2022. Estonia also took down a Soviet monument.

The dismantling of the monuments sparked isolated protests in both countries.

But it is is Russia that was most critical, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: "We see this as an outrage. This war on a common history, the elimination of monuments to those who saved Europe from fascism, is outrageous, of course."

A Soviet-era World War II monument is seen in the Latvian capital Riga
This Soviet-era World War II monument in the Latvian capital Riga was torn down in August 2022Image: SNA/IMAGO

The Soviet monument dispute is not the only reason why certain individuals have ended up on Russia's wanted list. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly criticized the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia.

Both countries are phasing out the use of Russian in public life, with education to be provided only in their respective national languages. Russian passport holders who wish to continue living in Latvia have to pass a Latvian language test. Failure to do so could lead to expulsion, even if a person has spent their entire life in Latvia.

What consequences do wanted individuals face?

People on Russia's wanted list have nothing to worry about provided they do not set foot in the country. Those who do enter Russia, however, risk being arrested and facing criminal proceedings.

The Kremlin is seen in Moskau during winter
People who appear on the wanted list having nothing to fear as long as they don't step foot in RussiaImage: AFP/Getty Images/M. Antonov

Does the wanted list serve a domestic agenda?

Yes. Ahead of the Russian presidential elections in March, President Vladimir Putin is keen to show he is standing up for and defending Russians at home, and abroad. He is eager to cast himself as a strong, decisive leader, and not afraid of further straining ties with the Baltic states.

The wanted list also serves to further depict a hostile Europe that is strongly supporting Ukraine against Russia. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, for instance, has campaigned vehemently to send more arms to Ukraine..

This article was translated from German.