BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union said on Friday the fall of the Berlin Wall, rather than Nazi Germany, was the "end of dictatorship" in Europe, risking upsetting Russia as it prepares to celebrate the end of World War II.
"We honor the many innocent victims of past conflicts and those who paid the highest price in defense of freedom and democracy," the EU's executive Commission said in a declaration marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.
"We remember as well the many millions for whom the end of the Second World War was not the end of dictatorship, and for whom true freedom was only to come with the fall of the Berlin Wall."
World leaders will converge on Moscow on May 9 for anniversary celebrations
and three days of high diplomacy.
The EU has been forced into a delicate balancing act over how to mark the anniversary since it enlarged to 25 countries last May.
Three new member states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, were integral members of the Soviet Union, while several other new members are former communist countries in eastern Europe which Moscow effectively controlled after the war.
The Baltic republics in particular see May 9, which Russia celebrates as Victory Day, as marking the beginning of Soviet occupation rather than as liberation. The presidents of Estonia and Lithuania will boycott the celebrations in Moscow.
The European Commission's Vice President Guenter Verheugen recently called on Russia to recognize the Soviet presence in the Baltic republics as an occupation, to Moscow's dismay.
"Verheugen's statement was inappropriate and inopportune in the runup to an outstanding historic date," Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Russia's presidential representative for EU relations, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
The EU and Russia hold a summit in Moscow the day after the Victory Day celebration, making the EU comments on dictatorship even more sensitive as both sides hope to sign a comprehensive deal redefining their relationship following EU enlargement.
President Bush will weigh into the argument when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow after a brief visit to Latvia, where he will see all three Baltic presidents in a pointed gesture of solidarity.
He told reporters before leaving for Europe that there was "great angst" in the Baltic states because "people don't view this as a liberating moment."
"Of course I'll remind him of that," he told Lithuanian state television when asked if he would remind Putin that the end of the war brought Soviet occupation to the Baltics.
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