ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — A plaque commemorating Carl Mannerheim in the Russian city of St. Petersburg has been splashed with red paint, highlighting the controversy over the Finnish soldier and statesman who served in the Imperial Russian Army but later led troops against the Soviet Union.
The plaque was vandalized three days after being unveiled on June 16 by high-level Kremlin officials, and remains covered with black plastic.
Placed on the wall of a military academy, the plaque was intended to commemorate Mannerheim's service in the Imperial Army, which included the Russo-Japanese War and World War I.
But after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and Finland's declaration of independence, he took over command of Finnish troops, and decades later led Finland against the Soviet Union during World War II.
Finnish troops took part in the Nazi siege of Leningrad, as the city was then called, and the memory of the hundreds of thousands of residents who died during the nearly 900 days of the siege is still sacred to the people of St. Petersburg.
"I think the plaque to Mannerheim in St. Petersburg was the wrong idea. Even though he served Russia before the revolution, he is to blame for the deaths of many Leningrad residents during the siege," said Dmitry Svetlov, a 20-year-old student.
Yelena Zadorina, a 42-year-old manager, agreed: "I think in such cases it is better not to put up monuments, especially in a case when there are still people alive who remember the siege and who lost relatives at that time."
In 1944, as Finland's president, Mannerheim withdrew his country from the war and made peace with the Soviet Union.