TALLINN - Estonia on Friday hit back at Russian media claims that a new monument in the Baltic state's capital was an homage to soldiers who fought on Nazi Germany's side in the Second World War.
Defence ministry spokesman Martin Jashko told AFP the Russian reaction to the unveiling of the War of Independence Victory Monument in Tallinn was "regrettable and very clearly malevolent."
Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million people, broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991. Tallinn regularly spars with Moscow over conflicting versions of history.
The monument, inaugurated Tuesday, is based on a cross-shaped medal for Estonians who fought in the 1918-1920 war of independence as the Russian empire collapsed at the end of the First World War.
Russian media, however, have highlighted its subsequent adoption as the insignia of Estonian units that fought on the German side against the Soviets, and have claimed the monument "glorifies" the Nazis.
"The cross and the symbol in the middle of (the) cross used on the monument were designed already in 1919, long before the Nazi era," Jashko insisted.
The Soviets took over Estonia under a 1939 pact with the Nazis, and deported 10,000 Estonians to Siberia. The Red Army was driven out in 1941 when Germany turned on its ally.
Estonians fought on both sides, some battling the bloody German occupation and others joining the Nazis to try to stave off the Soviets' return in 1944 which brought renewed repression.
Since independence in 1991, some in Estonia have argued that for the Baltic state, the Second World War was simply a choice between two evils.
Russia, however, dubs any attempt to put the two wartime powers on an equal footing as "falsification" of history and an affront to the memory of Soviet troops who died to defeat the Nazis.
Jashko noted that anti-communist Russians — most of them captured Soviet soldiers — also fought for the Nazis and adopted old insignia that Moscow has revived since the demise of the Soviet Union.
"We might as well ask whether the Russian white, blue and red flag or the St. Andrew's flag . . . used by such units fighting on the Nazi side became Nazi symbols as a result," he said.
Wartime history is extra-sensitive in Estonia because ethnic Russians — mostly with Soviet settler roots — make up around a quarter of the population.
Relations hit a post-independence low in 2007 when Tallinn was rocked by clashes between security forces and ethnic Russians over the removal of a Soviet war memorial from the city centre. Estonia accused Russia of piloting the trouble, something Moscow denied.