published 01/03/2012 at 18:42 GMT by Will Stewart In Moscow
Russia's fury after neighbour Latvia plans to hold rally to commemorate SS
Russia today accused its tiny neighbour Latvia of making 'attempts to whitewash Hitler’s flunkeys' by allowing a parade which honours the role of the Baltic state’s veterans who fought for the Nazis in the Second World War.
In a furious outburst, Moscow accused the country’s president of seeking to 'justify the crimes' committed by 'collaborators' in the Latvian legion of the Waffen SS, and warned of the risk of 'glorification of the Nazi movement'.
The blast from the Russian foreign ministry against the EU and NATO state came after the go-ahead for an annual rally on March 16 to commemorate the 140,000-strong Latvian unit of Germany’s Waffen SS.
Latvian President Andris Berzins claimed the veterans deserved respect not condemnation, arguing that the Second World War recruits fought on the Nazi side in a bid to regain independence for their own country, which had been overrun by Stalin’s USSR.
'They were conscripted into the fascist German Legion. They went with the ideal of defending Latvia. Latvians in the Legion were not war criminals,' he said.
'Remarks by Latvian President Andris Berzins expressing sympathy for Latvian Waffen-SS veterans are inconsistent with the status of the country as a democratic state,' said Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
He alleged the Latvian SS forces had committed atrocities on civilians in the ex-USSR while under Hitler’s command.
'Attempts to justify the crimes of the Latvian volunteer SS legion against the peaceful population of the Novgorod and Pskov regions and Belarus - and in the Riga ghetto - are sacrilegious and amoral and naturally cause profound indignation in Latvia and abroad,' he said.
He accused Latvia of flouting a UN resolution, and a European Commission demand 'which express serious concern over glorification of the Nazi movement, of former Waffen-SS members and local collaborationists'.
A Nazi rally: This historic shot shows Hitler's troops carrying Swastika banners on a march in Nuremberg. Moscow says the rally proposed by Latvia for March 16 would commemorate a unit which committed atrocities in the former USSR
The Soviets seized Latvia in summer 1940 under a secret pact with Hitler. The deal broke down the following year
when Germany invaded Soviet territory, with some Latvians hailing the Nazis as liberators.
Just a week earlier, Stalin had deported 15,000 Latvians to Siberia.
But the invading Nazis brought in their own reign of terror, killing 70,000 Jews, helped by local collaborators.
SS veterans insist they were not Nazis and that their legion was founded in 1943, after most of Latvia’s Jews were slaughtered.
As the Nazis were crushed, Stalin re-invaded Latvia, which remained in the Soviet Union until declaring independence in 1990.