Estonian Trial Angers Moscow

Itar-TassArnold Meri
The trial of a World War II Red Army veteran on charges of genocide in Estonia has drawn angry charges from the Foreign Ministry and promises from State Duma deputies on Wednesday that they will issue a formal condemnation of the case.

The trial of Arnold Meri, 88, for his part in the deportation of 251 Estonians to Siberia after the war has rekindled the tensions surrounding the movement of "The Bronze Soldier," a Soviet-era memorial, from central Tallinn to a cemetery last year.

"The epic of the Bronze Soldier is not over," Nikolai Kovalyov, chairman of the Duma's Veterans' Affairs Committee, told the parliament Wednesday. He added that a formal declaration was in preparation, RIA-Novosti reported.

Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the declaration would be considered Friday.

The charges against Meri, a highly decorated Soviet soldier and cousin of former Estonian President Lennart Meri, say that 43 of the 251 people he had a part in deporting died in Siberian labor camps, and another died in transit.

The first day of the hearing in Tallinn on Tuesday got prominent coverage from Russia's state-controlled media.

The Foreign Ministry accused Tallinn of fabricating the case. The "shameful trial has nothing to do with lawful justice but is part of the purposeful attempts by the Estonian authorities to discredit and prosecute veterans of World War II," the ministry said in the statement posted on its web site Tuesday night.

A spokeswoman for the Estonian Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the trial or its likely effect on relations with Moscow, saying it was a matter for the courts. "Estonia is a democratic state, and our courts are independent," Tiina Maiberg said by telephone from Tallinn on Wednesday.

Meri has said he did participate in the deportations but that he was just a civil servant.