MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin issued New Year’s greetings Saturday to a former pro-Soviet partisan convicted in Latvia of war crime for killing civilians during World War II.
Vassily Kononov, 80, was convicted last year of war crimes for ordering the execution of Latvian civilians, including a pregnant woman, in 1944 when Latvia was occupied by Nazi troops. He was a leader of a band of partisans fighting the Nazis.
Kononov was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment, but was freed because he had served that much time in pretrial detention.
Many Russians consider Kononov a hero and Moscow criticized the trial as a witch-hunt targeting an ailing, elderly man.
“You have defended not only your honest name, but historical justice and the honor of your fighting comrades,” Putin said in the greetings statement released by the Kremlin. “From my soul I greet you and your loved ones on the coming New Year.”