Russia aims to prosecute destruction of war monuments abroad

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A worker covers the statue of a Soviet World War II commander Marshall Ivan Stepanovic Konev after its been removed from its site in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, April 3, 2020. Marshall Konev led the Red Army forces that liberated Prague and large parts of Czechoslovakia from the Nazi occupation in 1945. His monument, unveiled in the Prague 6 district in 1980 when the country was occupied by Soviet troops, has been a source of controversy. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

MOSCOW – Russia’s defense minister called on law enforcement officials Wednesday to consider filing criminal charges against representatives of other countries where World War II memorials commemorating the actions of the Soviet Union are demolished.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the appeal to the head of the Investigative Committee, Russia’s top criminal investigation body.

Russia takes offense at any criticism of the Soviet role in the war. The Soviet Union had the most casualties, but its occupation of territory resulted in decades of Moscow-backed Communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

The issue is especially sensitive this year as Russia prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9.

In his communique to Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee, Shoigu cited last week’s dismantling of a statue of Soviet general Ivan Konev in Prague.

”There has been an increase in attempts by officials of certain foreign states to falsify the historical truth about the decisive contribution of the Soviet Union to the defeat of the fascist invaders during the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War,” Shoigu said, according to his ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a law that made damaging such memorials a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.