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Putin: Soviets 'Liberated' Eastern Europe During WWII

Vladimir Putin looks on as honor guards lay wreath during unveiling of new World War II memorial in Moscow, Saturday

Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised the Soviet Union's heroic actions in hastening the end of World War II, in a pointed rebuttal to critics who say the Kremlin was responsible for decades of oppression that followed the war across eastern Europe.

Taking part in the opening of a new war memorial at Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow Saturday, Mr. Putin said the Soviet people "liberated 11 European states" in the course of their war against Nazi Germany.

In Mr. Putin's words, "Never before had the world seen such mass heroism" as the Soviet Union displayed in the battles that shattered the Nazis' military machine.

The presidents of the Baltic states - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - are among those say their nations were not liberated by Soviet forces. They have denounced the Kremlin's failure to apologize for annexing their territory and incorporating it into the Soviet Union.

The Lithuanian and Estonian presidents are boycotting World War II Victory Day ceremonies in Red Square on Monday. Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is expected to try to raise the annexation issue in the Russian capital.

In a commentary appearing Saturday in the French daily Le Figaro, Mr. Putin says he thinks the Baltic states are trying to attract attention for themselves and justify their discriminatory treatment of ethnic-Russian residents.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.