BREST, Belarus (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev condemned on Sunday what he described as attempts to rewrite wartime history -- an attack the Kremlin said was aimed at Ukraine and the three Baltic states.
In a joint declaration marking the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Medvedev and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko denounced a “politicized approach to history”.
Their countries “strongly condemn any attempt at rewriting history and revision of the results of World War Two,” they said.
Ukraine and the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have challenged Moscow’s view of history, saying their nationals suffered from Soviet as well as Nazi oppression, and a Kremlin spokesman said later the criticism was aimed at them.
Meeting in the Belarussian town of Brest, where Nazi forces first crossed the Soviet border on June 22, 1941, the two leaders said that “a selective, politicized approach to history should be set against honest, scientific debate.”
“Only on this basis can Europe draw the lessons of history and avoid a tragic repetition of the errors of the past.”
“This declaration is indeed a reaction to the actions of the countries in the Baltic and Ukraine, in which recently there has been the rehabilitation of the SS Halychyna division,” the Kremlin spokesman told Reuters. “In other countries, Britain for example, Nazi criminals are arrested, not justified.”
Russia has chided Ukraine for taking steps since the mid-1990s to grant some form of recognition as combatants to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), guerrillas who fought both Nazi and Soviet troops to secure an independent state.
The issue is contentious in Ukraine, where commemorations expose the country’s split into the nationalist west and centre and the Russian-speaking east, more sympathetic to Moscow.
Historians say the UPA had 40,000 men in its ranks at its peak. Some Ukrainians donned Nazi uniforms in a unit known as SS Halychyna.
Russia has also complained about Baltic nationalists who resisted Soviet occupation. It became embroiled in a diplomatic row with Estonia last year over the removal of a statue of a Red Army soldier from Tallinn’s city centre to a military cemetery.
Moscow also says Russsian-speaking minorities in Estonia and Latvia have been denied basic rights against a background of strong anti-Russian sentiment.
Medvedev also reaffirmed Russia’s support for steps to create a “union state” with Belarus -- planned since the mid-1990s but with little concrete progress so far.
Lukashenko, accused by Western countries of crushing fundamental rights, has championed the post-Soviet merger as the cornerstone of Belarus’s foreign policy, but Moscow has cooled to the idea in recent years.
Writing by Conor Sweeney, editing by Tim Pearce