Estonia's commission on wartime burials recommended March 13 removing the World War II Bronze Soldier statue, which is part of a Soviet-era memorial, from central Tallinn to a "quieter" military cemetery, in accordance with a new law passed in January, and to rebury the remains of Soviet soldiers.
"The exhumations will start soon and will take not less than two weeks. If archeologists find something medieval there, then [it could even take] three-four months. So the soldier will remain there both on May 8 and 9. This work cannot be completed in such a short period," Andrus Ansip told Russian language Radio 4.
Ansip said the exhumed remains will be identified by items discovered in the grave or by DNA tests, so that relatives of buried soldiers can be contacted.
"There's no decision what to do with the remains, and there's no decision to move the monument. All depends on the excavation results," he said.
The Estonian defense minister said last week the reburial process would begin at the end of April, while Estonian mass media reported that the ministry had drafted a detailed plan on how the graves were to be dug up, and how the remains of soldiers would be identified and reburied.
Reports also said the ministry had a plan on how to dismantle and move the Bronze Soldier statue.
The six-foot Bronze Soldier and other Soviet memorials have recently become rallying points for ethnic Russians, and following clashes with Estonian nationalists near the statues the authorities called for monuments "dividing society" to be removed.
Russia has accused Estonia of encouraging Nazism and discrimination against ethnic Russians, and even prompted a debate on possible energy sanctions against Estonia. Moscow has also called for international organizations to step in.
Some 50,000 Soviet troops perished in Estonia in 1944 fighting against Nazi Germany. The Soviets regained control of the republic, which many Estonians call occupation. The bodies of the soldiers killed in action are buried at 450 cemeteries and memorials across the Baltic country.
The Tallinn mayor confirmed that there is no decision to move the monument.
"57% of polled Tallinn residents are not in favor of dismantling the monument," Edgar Savisaar told journalists, saying the authorities should take public opinion into account.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier that if the monument is moved, it will seriously complicate bilateral relations.
A member of a Latvian public organization told RIA Novosti that seven antifascists and two journalists who were heading for Estonia to cover the Bronze Soldier developments were banned from entering the country.
"Border guards announced to them that they presented a threat to Estonia's security and that's why they won't be let into the country. It is interesting that they all are EU citizens and have the right to enter any European Union country without a visa. We intend to turn to the Journalists' Union, raising the issue of freedom of speech in our country," Dmitry Linter said.
Estonia's police confirmed the detention of nine people trying to cross the border.
"Border guards prevented nine persons from Latvia from entering Estonia. We have grounds to believe these people are connected with extremist groups," police said.