In modern Russia there are groups that are essentially Fascist.
The British Ambassador to Moscow has been harried for months by "Nashi" . Essentially Nashi is a pro-Putin group that behaves with considerable brutality- they have rightly been compared with the Nazi SA thugs that helped bully Germany into allowing Hitler into power.
These thugs have now come to Tallinn.
Violence and looting broke out as the government of Estonia sought to move the controversial statue of the "Bronze Man"- a Soviet era memorial to Soviet troops, sometimes known to the bitter Estonians as the "Tomb of the unknown Rapist". At present the statue is next to a tram stop in front of the National Library, but after increasingly bitter demonstrations by Soviet die-hards and Estonian nationalists the decision was taken to relocate the statue to a military cemetery. This violence was planned by the Kremlin.
Russia has used this essentially minor issue of the statue as leverage against Estonia, and the increasingly pro-Soviet regime of Vladimir Putin has tried to use the issue to create tension between Russian-speakers and Estonian-speakers in this prosperous Baltic country.
The drunken riots that Russian policy has supported have now led to the stabbing and subsequent death of one of the hooligans. Given the total cynicism of the current regime in the Kremlin, it is hard not to point the finger of blame at the Nashi thugs and their Moscow sponsors.
In the same week Vladimir Putin has put forward an increasingly hard line position against NATO: threatening Russian withdrawal from the CAFE agreement and bullying Moldova into an accommodation with the Russian sponsored gangsters of Trans-Nistria.
Nashi are not an accident. They are used as an instrument of policy by Putin. The death of a young man and the trashing of central Tallinn are just a reminder of what Putin regards as acceptable- as acceptable as the hounding of the British Ambassador, or -worse- the casual murder of those with the moral courage to question this increasingly brutal regime.
After the corruption of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder by the use of Russian money, Western Democrats must recognise the weakness of the West in the face of multiple challenges form the anti-democratic regime in the Kremlin. We must not remain silent, but support Estonia and Moldova against this regime. In Georgia, where the members of the government are routinely threatened with assassination by Russian agents- and indeed it is hard to view the deaths that have taken place as accidental- the West should become far more outspoken. Russian control over Georgia, and in particular the energy transit route that the country controls, would be a serious blow to the energy security of the West- and deliver control over the vast reserves of Central Asia to a regime that can not be trusted to make an honest bargain.
This week Boris N. Yeltsin finally died- not particularly mourned by most. Yet now his chaotic and incompetent regime looks like a golden era of hope. The arrest of a few demonstrators, including Gary Kasparov shows the paranoia that the supposedly far more popular President Putin now feels about opposition.
Despite the vile history of Stalin- the Man of Steel- all that the riots about the Man of Bronze in Tallinn show is that Putin enjoys the same Machiavellian world view, but in the Twenty-first century he is doomed to failure- his metal is not steel, it is tin.
NATO must speak out much more loudly against this tin-pot Mussolini and his drunken hooligan followers.