By STEVE GUTTERMAN, Associated Press
MOSCOW – Russia accused theand on Monday of conniving with nations that disrespect the memory of Soviet soldiers and seek to rewrite history, the latest angry words in a dispute deepened by Estonia’s relocation of a World War II monument.
Estonian authorities last month removed a monument to Soviet soldiers who died in the war from a central square in the Baltic nation’s capital, prompting riots by members of the Russian-speaking minority and heated criticism from Russian officials and politicians.
Russians regard the monument as a tribute to the millions of Soviet soldiers who died fighting the Nazis — and, in Russia’s view, liberating nations such as Estonia. Many Estonians regard it as a symbol of Soviet repression and a half-century of occupation.
The heightened tension comes as Russia prepares to celebrate Wednesday’s anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. The costly triumph is one of the proudest moments in Russian history, and Russian officials have repeatedly stressed that their view of the past is indisputable.
“Attempts to make a mockery of history are becoming an element and an instrument of the foreign policy of certain countries,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised comments at a ceremony honoring Russian diplomats who died during the war.
“Unfortunately certain organizations such as NATO and the EU connive with these attempts.”
“The memory of the victors does not fade, this memory is sacred to us, and attempts to relate to this memory blasphemously, to commit outrages against it, to rewrite history, cannot fail to anger us,” Lavrov said, according to a Foreign Ministry transcript.
NATO and the EU sharply criticized the sometimes raucous protests by pro-Kremlin youth groups whose members picketed the Estonian Embassy in Moscow for a week, disrupting its operations. Along with the United States, they urged Russia to ensure security for the embassy and diplomats.
The dispute has tested relations between Russia and the West, already strained by disagreement on an array of issues ranging from human rights and democracy to arms control. The West is wary of President‘s increasingly assertive Kremlin, while Putin has accused Western forces of seeking to weaken Russia.
Putin stressed Russia’s losses in the war but said that on Victory Day, Russia honors the memory of victims of fascism worldwide.
“Unfortunately, not everybody in the world understands that Russia lost more people in this war than the whole rest of the world,” the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted him as saying. “That’s the way it is, but we pay tribute to the memory of all victims of Nazism. This includes antifascists in Germany itself. It includes our allies in the second world war.”
The newspaper Kommersant, meanwhile, reported Monday that Putin is to sign a decree this month creating a system of seven representative offices abroad — mostly in central Europe, including in Poland, Hungary and the Baltics — that would be responsible for the inventory and preservation of war graves.
Poland, meanwhile, said it was preparing a law that would give local authorities a free hand to remove monuments that show “praise for the Communist dictatorship,” but allow for preservation of those that honor Soviet soldiers.
Polish Culture Minister Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski said the legislation was not inspired by the dispute in Estonia and was conceived months before it began.
“The point of the law is to give the right to local governors to remove those objects that in a drastic manner commemorate the Communist dictatorship,” Ujazdowski said on TVN24 television.
He said the law would not target monuments honoring the bravery of Red Army soldiers. “Under no circumstance can we be accused of a lack of respect for the ordinary soldiers,” he said.
Poland broke away from Soviet domination in 1989. During the four decades of Communist rule after Soviet troops overran Poland at the end of World War II, thousands of monuments were put up and streets were named to honor Red Army soldiers who liberated Poland from the Nazis — but many were built to honor communist authorities.
Associated Press Writer Monika Scislowska contributed to this story from Warsaw, Poland.