Cyberthugs possibly working at the behest of the Kremlin have launched Internet attacks on the Baltic nation of Estonia, according to European media reports.

Government ministries, banks, newspapers and political parties in the tiny nation of 1.1 million people have had to block access to their Web sites from other countries in the face of the crippling directed-denial-of-service attacks, in which tens of thousands of computers bombard Web servers with millions of useless requests for information.

The attacks began shortly after a week of riots in the capital, Tallinn, following the April 26 removal of a World War II Soviet soldier's statue from a public square.

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Estonia's Russian minority, descended from settlers who arrived after Soviet troops conquered the nation in 1940, has complained of persecution since the nation regained its independence in 1991.

Estonian officials are implying that the Russian government is behind the attacks, but neutral security experts think the culprits could just as easily be angry Russian hackers acting on their own.

Estonia is now a member of both NATO and the European Union, and relations with its former colonial master are not great.

"This is an operational security issue, something we're taking very seriously," an unnamed NATO official told the British newspaper the Guardian. "It goes to the heart of the alliance's modus operandi."

The country, whose inhabitants are closely related to Finns, is one of the most "wired" nations in the world, with the Internet closely interwoven into daily life.

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