updated 6/18/2009 12:32:57 PM ET 2009-06-18T16:32:57

Russia on Thursday accused Western leaders of slighting the Soviet role in the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in their remarks this month commemorating the D-Day landings in Normandy.

The June 6 ceremonies would not have taken place if not for the sacrifice of millions of Soviet soldiers, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said.

He said the leaders of Britain, France, Canada and the United States presented a "peculiar interpretation" of World War II, overstating the significance of the Western front fighting and failing to pay adequate tribute to the Soviet contribution to victory.

"Not a word was spoken about the decisive role ... of the Soviet Union, which took on itself the most terrible blow of Hitler's army and suffered the greatest human losses," Nesterenko said.

The comments underscored Russian leaders' insistence on universal acceptance of their portrayal of historical events, particularly World War II and the divisive Soviet role in postwar Europe. In speeches at the June 6 ceremonies in Normandy, President Barack Obama was the only Western leader to mention the Soviet sacrifice.

27 million Soviet deaths
Europe's liberation and the D-Day commemorations themselves "would have been impossible if millions of our soldiers had not paid for this with their blood and their lives in battle against the best units of Hitler's Wehrmacht; if our army — in the words of Churchill — had not broken the back of Hitler's war machine."

An estimated 27 million Soviet citizens died in the war, and the victory over Nazi Germany is an immense source of pride for Russians regardless of whether they look back to the Soviet era with nostalgia or anger over the government's oppression of its own people.

For decades, Russian officials and many citizens have expressed dismay about what they see as Western ignorance of the Soviet contribution. Many Russians in turn are unaware of the extent of the Western Allies' contribution, and a common view shaped by Soviet propaganda is that the United States waited to enter the war until the outcome was clear.

The commemorations of the Normandy landings were already marred by a diplomatic tiff among Western nations over their roles in the war. Many Britons grumble that their nation does not get its due — either from its ally, the United States, or from the French whom it helped to liberate.

The Foreign Ministry comments came amid a growing Kremlin campaign to criticize anyone who questions Russia's interpretation of history from the country's beginnings over a millennium ago. Last month, President Dmitry Medvedev created a state commission to fight what he asserted are growing attempts to harm Russia by lying about its history.

Kremlin critics say it is Russia that is seeking to hide the truth and whitewash the Soviet Union's conduct at home and abroad.

The Kremlin push to control the interpretation of postwar history is adding to friction between Russia and former Soviet republics and satellites in Eastern Europe, many of whose citizens see the Soviet Union as an occupier rather than a liberator.

The Polish government demanded an explanation earlier this month after a research paper blaming Poland for World War II was posted on the Russian Defense Ministry's Web site.

Tension could increase further as Russia prepares to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Allied victory next May.

More on Russia   |   D-Day

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