Russian diplomat backs veterans in Arctic medals row

BACKING Alexander Yakovenko, and inset, Eddie Grenfell
BACKING Alexander Yakovenko, and inset, Eddie Grenfell
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RUSSIA’S ambassador to the UK has criticised a minister for his comments about Arctic Convoy heroes and their campaign for a medal.

Veterans minister Andrew Robathan upset Arctic heroes after comments he made during and after a debate about the issue in the House of Commons last week.

BACKING Eddie Grenfell

BACKING Eddie Grenfell

Speaking about the government’s reasons for not awarding a medal, the minister said: ‘Generals in the Soviet army were covered in medals, which is not the tradition in this country.’

Arctic veterans were awarded a medal by the Russian government in recognition of their efforts.

In a letter published on the website of the Russian embassy, Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said: ‘I strongly disagree with Andrew Robathan who said of the Arctic Convoys veterans that there was “no intention to cover everybody in medals like authoritarian regimes and dictators do”.

‘Russia awarded the British veterans of the Arctic campaign not to “throw out a lot of medals” but as a sign of gratitude for their courage and sacrifice.

‘It is only proper for our two nations to remember that horror born out of the dysfunctional European society and politics of the time, as well as those who helped put an end to it.

‘These British servicemen know their feats are well remembered in our country since that hard-won victory represents our common cultural value that will endure over centuries.’

Mr Robathan apologised for his comments earlier this week.

Commander Eddie Grenfell, the 91-year-old leader of the Arctic Medal campaign, said: ‘I’m surprised the ambassador didn’t mention the direct insult about the Soviet army. He insulted us many times during that debate but that was one of the first and we were shocked.

‘These people got their medals for fighting in dreadful battles. He (Robathan) received two medals and one was for being the commanding officer of a prisoner of war camp.’

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

HUNDREDS of people have signed an online petition calling for an Arctic Star medal at portsmouth.co.uk/arcticconvoys.

More than 3,000 British sailors died to keep the Soviet Union fighting in the Second World War.

Of 900 allied warships and merchant ships on the 78 convoys, 104 merchant and 21 Royal Navy ships were sunk by Nazi U-boats, planes and battleships.

Around 66,500 men took part in the convoys of cargo and munitions to Russia.

If they had failed to deliver, Hitler could have defeated the Red Army and turned the full might of his military against Britain.

However, those men have never been given their own medal.

When they were in opposition, the Conservatives promised to strike an Arctic Star medal when they next came to power, but ministers have so far snubbed the ageing veterans.