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Kremlin: SS March in Latvia Ignored

March 20, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ With a rare ardor, the Kremlin condemned Western democracies Thursday for turning a blind eye to a recent march by former members of an SS brigade in the Baltic state of Latvia.

The march in Latvia’s capital Riga earlier this week was an ``astounding sight, an outrageous sight″ that left a ``dismal impression″ in Russia, said President Boris Yeltsin’s spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky.

But just as ``astounding was the silence by many European nations, members of both the European Union and NATO,″ Yastrzhembsky told reporters.

``Does this silence mean that NATO countries are ready to extend an invitation to a zone of democracy and stability to a country whose authorities indulge SS leftovers?″ Yastrzhembsky asked in an usually forceful speech for the typically impassive spokesman.

Latvia, along with two other former Soviet republics in the Baltics _ Estonia and Lithuania _ is eager to join NATO, saying membership in the alliance would protect it from what it perceives as a threat by its giant neighbor, Russia. Moscow adamantly opposes the plan.

Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, occupied by the Nazis in 1941-44, then recaptured by the Soviet Red Army.

Decades of Soviet occupation made many Latvians more sensitive to the crimes of the Communists than of the Nazis, who were regarded by the Baltic nations largely as enemies of the Soviet regime.

The already cool relations between Russia and Latvia, which has a substantial ethnic Russian minority, have further deteriorated in recent weeks.

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