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(Bloomberg) -- Russia escalated a dispute over the removal of a Soviet-era memorial in neighboring Estonia, compounding tensions in a European Union member state that has fiercely condemned the invasion of Ukraine.
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President Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesman on Friday called the plans to remove a World War II tank in the eastern Estonian city of Narva, which sits on the border with Russia, a “war against history.”
Estonia’s president had earlier reinforced the government’s pledge to remove communist-era monuments, saying Putin’s invasion had disgraced memories of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.
“Putin’s order to the Russian army to attack Ukraine on Feb. 24 changed the meaning of many World War II memorials in Europe,” President Alar Karis said in a statement. “I have myself seen in Ukraine the pain and grief caused by almost identical Russian tanks.”
The westward-facing T-34 tank, emblazoned with a red star and resting on a pedestal next to the Narva river, was erected by Soviet authorities in 1970 to mark the 1944 Battle of Narva. Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, was part of the Soviet Union until it reclaimed independence in 1991.
Speaking in Moscow, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the order to remove the monument from the pedestal.
“The war against history, moreover with a common history and the disposal of monuments for those who saved Europe from fascism, is of course outrageous,” Peskov said.
The push to remove hundreds of Soviet monuments cuts into the country’s cultural divide, with Russian speakers making up nearly a quarter of the population.
In Narva, whose population of some 57,000 is mostly Russian speaking, officials have refused to dismantle the monument, a favorite backdrop for locals for wedding photographs. Earlier this week, demonstrators went to the site of the monument to protest against its removal.
A similar row over the relocation of a Soviet monument in the capital Tallinn in 2007 set off rioting and a cyber attack on Estonian government websites, with authorities blaming the Kremlin.
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