Don't reinterpret WW2, Russia tells neighbors

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday Russia should resist attempts by some of its ex-Soviet neighbors to “falsify” the history of World War Two by underplaying Moscow’s role in defeating Hitler.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev takes part in the ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the lifting of the Leningrad siege in World War Two at Peskaryovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg, January 27, 2009. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

“We should be tougher in defending our positions, to tell our partners the whole truth about falsifications of history, glorifying Nazi criminals in neighboring states,” he told a meeting with government officials and public figures.

“There is no room for diplomatic niceties. I want the foreign ministry to take a more aggressive stance.”

Medvedev was in St Petersburg for celebrations marking 65 years since the Red Army lifted in a 900-day Nazi siege of Russia’s second city, then known as Leningrad.

Historians say up to a million died in the siege, most from hunger, as Nazi forces deliberately bombed food warehouses in an attempt to starve the city into submission.

The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union caused major splits in Russian society, but the Red Army’s key role in defeating Nazi Germany remains one of the few unifying elements in Russia’s turbulent history.

Medvedev, in office since last May, faces an acute economic crisis and a need for stability in the face of hardships. Memories of the war, he told the gathering, could be a consolidating element.

“The legacy of victory is not only history, it is a powerful resource to develop the state further,” he said.

Medevedev said Russia still had to establish whether the latest estimate of 27 million Soviet war dead was accurate. The number of dead in nearly half of Russia’s nine million mass war graves, he said, was still unknown.


Events in World War Two are actively debated in several ex-Soviet states, especially Ukraine and the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

Russia views this debate as an attempt by its neighbors to distance themselves from Moscow and break traditional ties which outlived the Russian empire and the Soviet Union.

“We see distortions of the truth about the war, about the decisive contribution by the Red Army to the defeat of the Nazism and the liberation of Europe,” Medvedev said. “Our task is to oppose such falsifications in every way.”

The Baltic states, annexed by Moscow shortly before World War Two, view the conflict as a clash of two totalitarian regimes in which small nations had to survive.

Veterans who fought in specially formed Baltic Nazi SS Waffen divisions are still honored as national heroes.

Showing the different views of history, Estonia in 2007 moved a World War Two Red Army memorial from the center of its capital to a military cemetery, sparking anger in Moscow.

Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders have called for legal recognition of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which numbered 40,000 at its height fighting both Soviet and Nazi forces, with isolated bands resisting Kremlin rule well into the 1950s.

Soviet veterans’ groups fiercely oppose such recognition.

Editing by Richard Balmforth