MOSCOW - Russia on Thursday expressed outrage at Romanian President Traian Basescu's recent remarks in support of a 1941 wartime attack on Soviet troops — an assault that was co-ordinated with the Nazis.
Basescu said in an interview last week that Romania's war against the Soviet Union was justified because it wanted to regain a territory — Moldova — taken by the Soviets in 1940. He said: "I probably would have done the same."
The order to attack Soviet troops was given by the pro-fascist dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu and led to the slaughter of thousands.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement it is "outraged" at Basescu's comments.
"Such shameless bravado, justifying the fascist aggression and desecrating the memory of millions of Nazi victims, is unacceptable and should get an appropriate appraisal from civilized Europe," the statement said.
Basescu was talking in an interview with B1 television on the 70th anniversary of Antonescu's order that the Romanian army cross the River Prut into Moldova.
"We had an ally and we had to retake a territory," he said, referring to the German army. "If I had the conditions of that time, I probably would have done it."
Romanian officials took exception to Russia's condemnation, and accused Moscow of "inappropriate" language in a responding Foreign Ministry statement. The ministry lamented that Basescu's comments on "tragic events, both for the Romanian people and the Russian people," were being used politically.
"We consider the expression of such public reactions to be regrettable and groundless, with unacceptable violence in the language used." The statement said Romania was disappointed there was no diplomatic correspondence before Russia went public, but said it hoped the episode would not affect relations.
Antonescu was Romania's prime minister from 1940 to 1944 and is considered responsible for the death of about 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Gypsies.
Critics accused Basescu of trying to soften the image of Antonescu as a war criminal in statements made last week, but in Wednesday's interview Basescu firmly accused Antonescu of having a hand in the Holocaust.
He added that if Antonescu had stopped at the Dniester — the river that was Moldova's border with the Soviet Union before the war — "it would have been perfect." Instead, Romania joined the Germans in attacking the Soviet Union beyond Moldova.
Alina Wolfe Murray contributed from Bucharest, Romania.