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Moscow says Baltic states' 'Russophobia' will further damage ties

FILE PHOTO: Police officers and media look on as the 80-meter tall obelisk is knocked down, during the dismantling of the Soviet WWII victory monument, in Riga, Latvia August 25, 2022. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Russia condemned the destruction of Soviet war memorials in the three Baltic states and accused them on Tuesday of persecuting their Russian-speaking minorities.

In a forcefully worded statement, Moscow said Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were guilty of xenophobia, saying they were treating their ethnic Russian minorities as "second-class people". It said Russian-language media, kindergartens and schools were being shut down.

"What is happening now in the Baltic states is unacceptable for us and will certainly affect the state of bilateral relations with these countries, which are already in complete decline," the Foreign Ministry said.

FILE PHOTO: A municipal police officer looks on during dismantling of a Soviet World War Two victory monument in Riga, Latvia August 23, 2022. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

It complained of "Russophobic approaches" and "an unprecedented, in fact close to fascist, campaign by the authorities of the Baltic states to barbarically remove, en masse, memorials to the Soviet soldier-liberators".

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova had accused the Baltic states on Aug. 12 of a "neo-Nazi bacchanalia".

The "neo-Nazi" charge is significant because President Vladimir Putin used the same accusation to justify his Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine and the West dismissed that as a false pretext for a war of conquest.

The Baltic states were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, then occupied by Nazi Germany before returning to Moscow's rule as part of the Soviet Communist bloc until they regained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

All three are members of the European Union and NATO, and their relations with Moscow have worsened sharply since the start of the war.

On Aug. 25, Latvian authorities demolished Riga's 80-metre high "Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders". Latvia's parliament had approved the demolition in May, and cited Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a reason.

Estonia announced on Aug. 16 that it would begin removing Soviet-era monuments, citing public order concerns.

(Reporting by Reuters, writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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