Estonia says head of Russian Orthodox Church must go home

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)An officer in the Ukraine armed forces briefs journalists in October 2014 in Kiev after Russia annexed Crimea, which was part of Ukraine that year.

Estonia will not renew the residence permit of Metropolitan Eugene of the Estonian Orthodox Church linked to the Russian Orthodox Church, saying he is a threat to national security.

Estonia told Valeri Reshetnikov, who heads the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate as Metropolitan Eugene, he must leave the Baltic country which shares a border with Russia and was once part of the Soviet Union.

The Russian Orthodox representative must leave Estonia by Feb. 6, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reported Feb. 11, citing the country's Police and Boder Guard spokesperson.

The Estonian government had repeatedly asked Reshetnikov to "stop vindicating the Kremlin regime and Russia's military actions in his statements" but he failed to do this, the spokesperson said.

Reshetnikov's public statements as the representative of the Moscow Patriarchate were found to be in support of Russia, which is waging an all-out war against Estonia's ally Ukraine, Politico reported on Jan. 18.

"Representatives of the Ministry of the Interior have repeatedly met with Reshetnikov to explain to him that he needs to stop vindicating the Kremlin regime and Russia's military actions in his statements," said Indrek Aru, the spokesperson of Estonia's border guard.

"Reshetnikov has not altered his conduct, which is found to be incompatible with Estonia's values and legal environment. That is why Reshetnikov's actions pose a threat to security," he noted.

"The actions of both the Moscow patriarch and Metropolitan Eugene have aided Russia's security policy in Estonia," Aru said, explaining that the Estonian parliament had declared Russia to be a terrorist state.

Reshetnikov has held a fixed-term residence permit in Estonia for four years. The last time his short-term permit was renewed was two years ago, immediately before the start of Russia's full aggression in Ukraine, according to ERR.

Estonia and its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania are among the staunchest supporters of Ukraine as it resists Russia's invasion.

All three Baltic states were ruled by Moscow for decades during the Soviet era and today are members of NATO and the European Union, which Ukraine also seeks to join, Reuters news agency reported.

Estonia s largely secular, but the Orthodox Church, favored by the country's sizeable ethnic Russian minority, is the most widespread religion, with 16 percent of the population affiliated with it.

Ethnic Russians make up nearly a quarter of Estonia's 1.3 million-strong population, the country's 2021 census showed.

The Lutheran Church, which is supported by many Estonians, is in second place, with eight percent of the population affiliated.

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