Russia condemns partisan trial underway in Valga court

  • 2002-08-29
  • Sara Toth

As the trial of an Estonian-born Russian accused of murdering three anti-Soviet partisans in the 1950s continues in southern Estonia, the Russian Embassy in Tallinn again slammed Estonia's attempt to investigate Soviet crimes against humanity as political.

Russian passport-holder Vladimir Pennart is accused of murdering three partisans from 1953-54 while Estonian citizen Rudolf Tuvi is accused of perpetrating one of the murders and assisting in one of the killings of the Forest Brothers, who fought in small groups against Soviet and Nazi occupiers.

Tuvi has confessed to the Estonian Security Police Board that he committed the murder as a Soviet agent, said Henno Kurrmann, superintendent of the security police board.

Tuvi told police that Pennart recruited him, gave him the weapon for the killing and assigned him the task of murder, Kurrmann said. Pennart has pleaded innocent to the charges, and the court will hear 31 witnesses for his claim when it reconvenes in the fall.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has helped pay for Pennart's legal defense, said Dmitri Ivanov, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy. In addition, Russian officials have made clear their opinion about the legitimacy of the case.

"In Russia's opinion, court cases like this one have a clearly political character," Ivanov said. "In particular, a resolution proclaiming the Soviet national security service and related institutions criminal proves this."

The Estonian Security Police Board said the trial was not about politics between Russia and Estonia, but about bringing justice to criminals regardless of their nationalities.

"No crime and no criminal should be left without a trial," Kurrmann said. "Crimes against humanity and genocide committed during and after World War II are the most awful crimes ever committed in Estonia. People still remember them and some of them still fear them. Our task is to convince people that these crimes will never happen again."

The security police have accused 17 people of crimes against humanity during the Soviet occupation. Estonian courts have convicted four of illegal deportation during the Soviet occupation and one of killing a civilian. Eleven of the accused, including Pennart and Tuvi, are still awaiting rulings.

Court proceedings for Pennart and Tuvi began last November. The security police's investigation was based on Soviet archives and eyewitness testimony, Kurrmann said.

Pennart's lawyer, Vachtang Fyodorov, said he was hoping that some of the eyewitnesses he planned to call to the witness stand when the trial resumes would show that his client's actions against the Forest Brothers were justified.

"Their testimonies might make clear what the Forest Brothers in the Valga region were like and show that the security service officers defended peace and safety of civilians when fighting against the brothers," Fyodorov said.