Russia opens probe after Prague removes Soviet statue

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Russia opens probe after Prague removes Soviet statue
A worker stands next the statue of Soviet general and Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Stepanovic Konev as it is made ready for removal on April 3, 2020 in Prague. The municipal district of Prague 6 has ordered to remove the statue of Ivan Konev, a controversial Red Army general during WWII. The statue will be replaced by a memorial dedicated to the liberation of Prague in 1945. Michal Cizek / AFP.

MOSCOW (AFP).- Russia said it would launch a criminal investigation on Friday after Czech officials removed a statue of a Soviet-era general in Prague.

The bronze statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev was taken down last week to make way for a World War II memorial, prompting the Russian embassy to protest.

City officials in the Czech capital said the statue would be moved to another site.

Removal of Soviet statues by Western-leaning countries once loyal to Moscow often sparks outrage in Russia as a visible sign of its waning influence.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu wrote to his Czech counterpart Lubomir Metnar asking him to hand over the statue to Russia.

The Czech minister responded this was not possible because the figure belongs to the city.

Russia's Investigative Committee, which examines serious crimes, said it had opened a probe into "defiling symbols of Russia's military glory", a charge punishable by a fine or community service.

Although the move is largely symbolic, the issue could affect diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Czech foreign ministry called Russia's move "unacceptable" in a statement, adding it rejected "any interference of the Russian Federation's government bodies in the Czech Republic's internal affairs."

"The Czech Republic respects all victims among Red Army soldiers, including Ukrainians, Belarussians and other nations of the former Soviet Union who fought for our liberation side by side with Russians," it said.

The ministry added that while the Czech Republic takes proper care of 4,224 war graves and memorials of Soviet soldiers, Russia "has failed to renew war memorials to fallen Czechoslovak legionnaires... on the Russian territory, despite several years of negotiations."

Marshal Ivan Konev is seen as a hero by many in Russia but as a symbol of Soviet-era repression by many Czechs.

He led Red Army troops that liberated Prague from the Nazis in 1945 but he was also in charge of Operation Whirlwind, which crushed the anti-Soviet Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

Prague district 6 Mayor Ondrej Kolar told the Czech CTK news agency that Konev's statue would be placed in a "museum dedicated to the history of the 20th century in Czechoslovakia".

Pro-Russian Czech President Milos Zeman echoed Russian outrage over the move as "an abuse of the state of emergency", referring to a government-imposed lockdown due to the coronavirus.

The statue was first put up in 1980, seven years after Konev's death.

© Agence France-Presse

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