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Uzbeks Demolish World War II Memorial Ahead Of Anniversary

The monument dedicated to participants of World War II in the city of Angren, near Tashkent, was demolished on March 19 as part of a redevelopment plan.
The monument dedicated to participants of World War II in the city of Angren, near Tashkent, was demolished on March 19 as part of a redevelopment plan.

ANGREN, Uzbekistan -- Authorities in Uzbekistan have demolished a statue of a Soviet soldier near the capital, a move that is starkly out of tune with Russian plans for proud celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Nazi defeat in World War II.

Officials in Angren told RFE/RL that a 10-meter-high World War II memorial was removed from the center of the city 50 kilometers from Tashkent on March 19 as part of a redevelopment plan.

The memorial -- a spire and a statue of a rifle-bearing soldier -- was unveiled in 1970 to mark the 25th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in what has long been known in the former Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War.

President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials emphasize the huge role the Soviet Union played in the Allied victory and bristle at any criticism of its wartime conduct.

Russia has reacted angrily when Soviet-era memorials in former Eastern Bloc countries have been demolished, moved, or vandalized.

Putin will preside over a military parade in Moscow's Red Square on May 9, which Russia celebrates as Victory Day, and has invited foreign leaders.

The anniversary has taken on an additional significance for Russia, its neighbors, and the West this year, with Moscow's annexation of Crimea and a deadly conflict between Russian-backed rebels and government forces in Ukraine evoking Europe's bloody 20th-century divisions.

Russia has portrayed the downfall of Moscow-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 as a U.S.-backed coup by fascists, and likens the pro-Western government now in power in Kyiv to Nazis.

While Russia portrays the Soviet Union as Europe's wartime liberator, many in Eastern Europe think of the Red Army as an occupying force whose westward sweep began decades of oppressive dominance by Moscow and economic hardship under communism.

The Angren war memorial comes down on March 19.
The Angren war memorial comes down on March 19.

There is also resentment in Uzbekistan and some other former republics of the Soviet Union, which lost some 27 million people in the war, according to official figures.

President Islam Karimov has criticized the wartime Soviet government, saying it needlessly sacrificed the lives of thousands of Uzbeks and that his country is still recovering from the loss.

In the 1990s, Karimov changed the name of the May 9 holiday to Day of Remembrance, and official media stopped referring to the conflict as the Great Patriotic War.

The most populous of the five Central Asian states, with more than 30 million citizens, Uzbekistan is a member of the nine-country Commonwealth of Independent States, but Karimov has resisted Russia's efforts to reintegrate former Soviet republics.

Uzbekistan withdrew from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization in 1999, then rejoined but pulled out again in 2012.

It is not clear whether Karimov will travel to Moscow for the May 9 parade.

Many Western leaders are staying away, but the Kremlin says Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are among heads of state expected to attend.

Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said on March 17 that more than 10 countries would send troops to Moscow for the military parade, some of them for the first time.

Ivanov also said that warplanes and warships will put on shows in some 70 cities, including Sevastopol, in Crimea.

For the first time, he said, Russian military personnel will take part in military parades in the capitals of Armenia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan -- ex-Soviet states whose ties with Russia are closer than Uzbekistan's.

Along with Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia are partners of Russia in the Eurasian Economic Union, a group formed this year and seen as part of Putin's bid to increase Moscow's influence in the region and counter the West.

Kyrgyzstan is expected to join by May 9.