Russian nationalists attack border guard in savage EU protest

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The Independent Online

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have received a bloody reminder that their recent accession to the European Union is deeply unpopular with Russian nationalists who have vented their fury with the savage beating of a female Lithuanian border guard.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have received a bloody reminder that their recent accession to the European Union is deeply unpopular with Russian nationalists who have vented their fury with the savage beating of a female Lithuanian border guard.

The attack, which occurred early on Tuesday morning, appears to be a protest against the the former Soviet republics leaving Moscow's sphere of influence. It also looks like the first sign of a tangible Russian nationalist backlash against the fact that after 1 May the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad became a small slice of the motherland trapped behind the EU's borders.

The border guard who fell victim to the attack was Natalya Zablotskaya, 24, who was travelling on one of the controversial closed trains which ferry Russian nationals between Moscow and Kaliningrad via Lithuania. She had boarded the Kaliningrad-bound train to check the documents of the 327 mostly Russian passengers.

Since EU enlargement Kaliningraders require a special visa to visit Russia proper, an obligation that angers many Russian nationalists who cannot understand why they need to ask the EU for a visa to visit another part of their own country. Ms Zablotskaya carried out the routine checks but then became separated from her colleagues.

Hours later her bloodied, unconscious body was found on the floor of one of the carriages. She had been beaten about the head, had her face disfigured and her wrists slashed. On the carriage wall behind her was an inscription in her blood. It read: "Lithuania for the Russians."

Lithuanian and Russian politicians condemned the attack and were keen to play down suggestions that it might be linked to Russian nationalism.

"I would call it nothing else than a bandit attack on a Lithuanian official. I wouldn't want to link it to some anti-Russian reaction," said Antanas Valionis, Lithuania's Foreign Minister. Nevertheless Russia's ambassador to Lithuania, Boris Tsepov, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry for talks.

Valdas Adamkus, a former Lithuanian president, said there had been trouble on the train on previous occasions. "Being aware that this is not the first incident on the train going via Lithuania it must be ascertained whether it [this attack] was done ... to deliberately worsen ties between Lithuania and Russia," he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its "indignation" at the attack saying that the Russian authorities would co-operate with their Lithuanian counterparts in the investigation. So far nobody has been arrested or detained.

The attack is a reminder, however, that many Russians are deeply uneasy about the treatment of large Russian minorities in the new EU member states. In Lithuania, almost 9 per cent of the 3.6 million-strong population is Russian and in the capital, Vilnius, that figure rises to almost 20 per cent. In Latvia and Estonia, ethnic Russians make up almost 30 per cent of the populations.

Many ethnic Russians feel that the Baltic states' accession to the EU leaves them further isolated from Moscow and the situation looks like it could come to a head in Latvia.

While Latvians celebrated their country becoming part of the EU on 1 May, ethnic Russians held a rally protesting against educational reforms that would make Latvian the main language in ethnic Russian schools from 1 September.

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