The presidents of Estonia and Lithuania will not attend celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Moscow because their countries fell under the Soviet yoke for nearly five decades after the war.
President Valdas Adamkus said it was "painful history" for Lithuania
President Arnold Ruutel of Estonia and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania made their announcements simultaneously in their respective capitals on Monday. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia, the third Baltic state, announced in January she will attend the ceremonies.
The decision by the Estonian and Lithuanian leaders to shun the ceremonies is likely to lead to further tension in their relations with Russia, already strained by the Baltic countries joining NATO and the European Union last year.
"Today I made my decision not to accept the invitation to participate on May 9 in Moscow in the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War," Ruutel said in the presidential palace in Tallinn. "The end of World War II brought with the victory over fascism also the imposition of the Soviet totalitarian regime in Estonia," he said.
The Baltic states were annexed by Stalin in 1940 following a secret deal with the Nazis splitting eastern Europe. The Nazis temporarily occupied them during the war, but the Red Army returned victorious and they became Soviet constituent republics, only regaining independence in 1991 with the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union.
Russia has refused to acknowledge the Baltic countries were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union and apologize for the hundreds of thousands of people killed and persecuted by Stalin's secret police.
Ruutel said the Estonian people "bow their heads commemorating all those millions of people who perished in tragic battles of the World War II against the fascist regime or have lost their lives as innocent victims in the turmoil of war that raged all over Europe." But the Estonian leader said that as head of state, he can best support the beliefs of his people "being together with my people on that day."
Ruutel said the country should be represented at the occasion in Moscow, however, and the government has decided it will be Foreign Minister Rein Lang who will attend the event.
In Vilnius, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said he would also stay at home on May 9. "Taking into account the painful history of the nation I decided to remain in Lithuania with the people on May 9," Adamkus said in a statement. "We shall commemorate the war heroes here in Lithuania and I sincerely hope that Russian people will understand my decision," Lithuanian president added.
Adamkus also said that the WWII did not ended for Lithuania on May 9, 1945.
"More than 350,000 people -- that is one-tenth of Lithuania -- were imprisoned, deported to Gulag camps or killed in Lithuania. These crimes were committed in our country already after the end of the most cruel war in human history," Adamkus said. "Lithuania's name was for 50 years deleted from the map of Europe."
Latvia to attend
Latvia's Vike-Freiberga announced last month she was going to attend the celebrations but added she expected to use the occasion to explain the controversial meaning of the date for Latvia.
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
"In attending the official events in Moscow, I will be extending a hand of friendship to Russia," Vike-Freiberga said. However, she also explained her attendance will be a tribute to those who lost their lives during the war.
"But I will also be commemorating, with great sadness, the renewed Soviet occupation of my country, and the immense human loss and suffering that ensued as a result; not only in Latvia, but throughout the former captive nations of central and eastern Europe," she said.