Moscow Hopes UK Changes Tack on Convoy Medals

MOSCOW, October 11 (RIA Novosti) – Moscow hopes Britain will change its mind and allow its World War II veterans to wear decorations awarded by Russia, the Foreign Ministry’s information department said on Thursday.

Moscow has been informed by the UK Foreign Office in the past few days of a final refusal to recognize the service of UK veterans of the Arctic Convoys to Russia by awarding them Russia’s Ushakov medal, which was awarded by a decree of the President of Russia to all participants of the convoys across the world.

“This decision gives us grounds for deep regret,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “We consider such rationale cannot serve the basis for a refusal to recognize the heroic service of the British convoy veterans. This is particularly lamentable as the Ushakov medal had already been awarded to the Arctic Convoy veterans who are still alive – citizens of the various nations in the anti-Hitler coalition,” the Ministry said.

“We consider the British authorities should overlook this bureaucratic formality and review their position. All the more so as there was a lot of hope for a positive decision as there was a lot of work done over several months, drawing up and checking the list of veterans,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The medals were given to a group of veterans from several nations, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, in accordance with a presidential decreee published in May this year. According to British law, foreign governments can only grant awards to UK citizens with the permission of the British Government. A foreign embassy has to present information to the local Foreign Office represenatives within the last five years on the activities of UK veterans including their participation in various events at a local, national and international level, for them to be allowed to receive foreign awards.

However, the UK Foreign Office said the information presented did not demonstrate any service toward Russia.

British Arctic Convoy veterans groups have also protested the UK government’s decision to neither award them a separate British campaign medal for their service, or allow them to accept foreign awards. Earlier this year, former diplomat Sir John Holmes carried out an inquiry into the rules on military decorations and said a fresh review of the war veterans’ claim for proper recognition should be a “top priority.”

The Ushakov medal is a Russian state decoration first awarded by the USSR in 1944. The medal is given to service personnel for courage in defense of the Fatherland at sea, both in wartime and peacetime.

Russia has more than once raised the question of decorating British servicemen from the Arctic Convoys, who brought vitally-needed military supplies to the Soviet Union’s northern ports in the face of intense opposition from German submarines, ships and aircraft in often appalling weather conditions. The convoys brought around 4 million units of cargo, or around a quarter of all the supplies from the Western Allies to the Soviet Union during the war.

Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill called the Arctic Convoy routes “the worst journey in the world.” Around 3,000 servicemen died while protecting the convoys.

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