TALLINN, Estonia — Burnt-out Russian tanks seized by Ukrainian forces last year were recently displayed in the capitals of the three Baltic states, where Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians flock to look at them and take photos in sympathy with the Ukrainians defending their homeland. .
But among the visitors to the tanks are members of the countries’ sizable Russian ethnic minorities, some of whom laid flowers and lit candles in memory of fallen Russian soldiers and expressed their support for Moscow.
The Russians’ gestures of support in the war have raised some arguments on the Russian side and at least one fistfight in Vilnius, underscoring tensions in the Baltic states.
On Wednesday, supporters and opponents of the war argued in front of a burned-out Russian T-72 tank that was shot down by Ukrainian forces near Kiev on March 31. It stands in the center of the Estonian capital, on Freedom Square, the square decorated with Ukrainians. and the Estonian flags, and where the Ukrainian national anthem could be heard from the nearby St. John’s Church.
On Saturday, the Estonian Ministry of Defense called the tank “a symbol of Russia’s brutal invasion.” This also shows that the aggressor can be defeated. Let’s help Ukraine defend freedom.”
Last week, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced that the tanks would be put on display as museum exhibits in the three Baltic capitals and in Berlin, following similar exhibitions in Poland and the Czech Republic last year.
“It’s a powerful reminder to all of us how well and peacefully we live when people die in Ukraine,” said Darius Klimka from Vilnius. “Yesterday my children were at the tank, we watched the evening news together. They kept asking me. why the world still tolerates Russian aggression and why Putin is not yet on trial.”
In Estonia, Anatoly Yharkov, a 78-year-old veteran of the Soviet Army who turned out to see the tank in Tallinn, said he felt bitter that Ukraine was fighting Russia in a war he said had its roots in the 1991 collapse. Soviet Union.
“Russian tanks are burning again, like during the war with the Nazis,” said Yharkov. “The Russian people always stood against the Nazis, no matter what flag they used. And I am very sorry that the Ukrainians are not on our side today.”
Russian government officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have promoted the false narrative that Moscow’s military is fighting neo-Nazis, even though Ukraine has a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust and heads a democratically elected government backed by the West. .
As some Russians placed flowers on the container in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, city authorities placed a garbage container nearby with a sign reading “for flowers, candles.” and Soviet nostalgia.”
One person placed a toilet bowl near the tank as a reminder of the looting by Russian forces.
Lithuanian police launched several investigations into the incidents, including a man who was beaten for taking flowers. Another incident was reported on Tuesday when a man sprayed her with red paint.
Not all Russians are on Moscow’s side.
Marina, a 60-year-old Russian national who did not give her last name for personal security reasons, condemned the invasion of Ukraine and hailed Ukrainians for their response.
“This Russian tank could have rolled into Narva, Estonia, which Putin would have declared a Russian city,” he said, adding that his children and grandchildren have Estonian citizenship. “And I understand very well that only the heroic resistance of the Ukrainians saved my children from the bloody scenario that is unfolding in Estonia.”
In Berlin, the tank also became a place of worship. Pro-Russian sympathizers placed red roses on a destroyed tank that was displayed outside the Russian embassy. The roses were eventually removed. The Russian embassy denied arranging the placement of the flowers, but welcomed the “heartfelt gesture of German citizens and our compatriots in Germany”.
Nerijus Maliukevicius, an analyst at the Vilnius Institute of International Relations and Political Science, said he believes the pro-Russian tribute to the tanks is part of an orchestrated tactic by the Kremlin, noting that images of them on social media and state television.
“This is how the alternative reality of a pro-Putin Europe is created,” he told The Associated Press.
Liudas Dapkus reported from Vilnius (Lithuania) and Vanessa Gera from Warsaw (Poland). Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
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