The prime minister said the statue had been removed from a largely Russian-speaking city to ensure ‘public order’ amid ‘growing tension and confusion around memorials’.
Estonia has removed a Soviet-era World War II memorial in Narva, a large city with a Russian-speaking majority, accusing Russia of using the monuments to stoke tensions.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in a statement that the move was a response to “increasing tension and confusion around memorials in Narva”.
“We must act quickly to ensure public order and internal security,” she said on Tuesday.
Local opposition to the monument’s removal had raised fears of a repeat of the riots that erupted in Tallinn in 2007 over the removal of a Soviet monument.
A World War II T-34 tank that was part of the Narva memorial will be transported to the Estonian War Museum and a mass grave of war victims will instead receive a “neutral headstone”.
Narva Mayor Katri Raik previously refused to hand over the tank to the museum.
The memorial is at the center of annual VE Day commemoration ceremonies in the city and the Narva City Council had failed to reach a decision on the removal of the monument despite the government’s order to do so before the end of the year.
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said Russia was trying to exploit “internal divisions” in Estonia.
Kallas said: “We will not offer Russia the opportunity to use the past to disturb the peace.
Interior Minister Lauri Laanamets said it was “in the interests of public order and internal security to remove the monuments in question before tensions around them rise again”.
The Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia both have large Russian-speaking minorities who are sometimes at odds with national governments.
Some fear that Moscow is seeking to exploit these differences in order to destabilize the countries, which are both EU and NATO members.
Narva, whose 57,500 residents are mostly Russian-speaking, lies about 210 kilometers (130 miles) east of Tallinn and separated from the Russian city of Ivangorod by the Narva River.
Russian officials have criticized Estonia’s drive to remove remaining Soviet-era monuments.
“We find this outrageous. A war with a common history, getting rid of monuments to those who saved Europe from fascism, of course, is outrageous. It doesn’t make any nation beautiful, including Estonia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month.
Earlier this month, Estonia decided to ban nationals from neighboring Russia with tourist visas from entering the northernmost Baltic country following the war in Ukraine.
The European Union, of which Estonia is a member, already banned air travel from Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. But Russians can still travel overland to Estonia and apparently take flights to other European destinations.