Medvedev Says Don't Rewrite WWII

ReutersMedvedev speaking with a cadet during a visit to the Nakhimov Naval Academy in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
ST. PETERSBURG -- President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that Russia should resist attempts by some of its former Soviet neighbors to "falsify" the history of World War II by underplaying Moscow's role in defeating Hitler.

"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 the northern city, then known as Leningrad.

Historians say up to 1 million people 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 society.

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 9 million mass war graves was still unknown he said.

Events in World War II are actively debated in several former 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 that 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 II, 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 II 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 and fought both Soviet and Nazi forces, with isolated bands resisting Kremlin rule well into the 1950s.

Soviet veterans' groups fiercely oppose such recognition.