- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

MOSCOW

Agence France-Presse

Russian Foreign Mini-ster Sergey Lavrov criticized last week an Estonian law that would allow the removal from Tallinn of a Soviet memorial seen by Russians as marking victory in World War II but by many Estonians as a symbol of occupation.

The Estonian law allowing the removal of the bronze soldier from its position in the city center also was denounced by members of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, who are promoting a draft law for sanctions against Estonia.

“We consider the decision blasphemous, dictated by motives that have nothing to do with preserving history. … It’s necessary to ensure the preservation of these monuments in the places where they were erected,” Mr. Lavrov was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying.

The dispute reflects deep-seated differences between Russia and the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — which were independent between the two world wars, then occupied briefly by Nazi Germany and absorbed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Russian campaigners think that remains of Soviet soldiers may be buried beneath the statue.

The Baltic states, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, say that the end of World War II ushered in a long period of Soviet occupation during which tens of thousands died in deportations to Siberia and other remote regions.

But Valentin Varennikov, a Duma member from the Rodina party, said at a press conference: “Millions gave their lives for the honor and independence of our homeland, fighting to free Europe from occupation and to liquidate the real threat of fascism. … Today this is forgotten by some politicians, and above all the Estonian parliament.”

Communist parliament member Yuly Kvitsinsky said tough sanctions should be implemented in response to such “provocative acts” and said it is hopeless to expect Western help, because the European Union and NATO are intent on expansion.

“European structures want to cement the results of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and possibly extend NATO and the EU further to the east,” Mr. Kvitsinsky said.

The Russian military officer responsible for World War II graves, Alexander Kirillin, also spoke out, alluding to suspicions that Russian soldiers are buried under the statue.

“One shouldn’t fight against the most defenseless people: the war dead. They can’t raise their voices to defend themselves and should be defended by the state,” he added.

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