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Moscow Times
September 1, 2009
In Concession, Putin Calls War Pact Immoral
By Nikolaus von Twickel

Amid sparring with Poland about shared responsibility with Hitler for World War II, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent a conciliatory message to Warsaw on the eve of the commemoration marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the war.

Putin, who is expected to make a speech on the Westerplatte in the Polish port of Gdansk on Tuesday, made a key concession to Warsaw by saying that Moscow’s deal with Hitler to carve up Europe was “immoral.”

“Without doubt, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 1939 can be fully condemned,” Putin wrote in comments published Monday in Poland’s daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

He said the pact was officially rebuked as early as 1989 when the Congress of Soviets declared it immoral.

But Putin also accused other European nations of leaving the Soviet Union to face Germany alone.

He wrote that France and Britain destroyed hopes for a unified opposition to fascism when they signed the Munich Agreement in 1938, which redirected Hitler’s aggression eastward.

Moscow has bickered with many former Soviet allies, including Poland, which tend to view Stalin’s Soviet Union as an aggressor in the war.

President Dmitry Medvedev has even appointed a state commission to deal with what the Kremlin calls the falsification of history.

Putin’s foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov made it clear Monday that the prime minister was not planning to apologize for anything. “The visit is designed to counter attempts to distort history as well as to boost Russian-Polish relations, Ushakov said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Last week, a documentary on Rossia state television claimed Poland had secretly planned with Nazi Germany and Japan to invade the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

The documentary caused a Polish media uproar, which continued when the Foreign Intelligence Service announced the upcoming release of a book titled “Secrets of Polish Policy” that claims that Poland secretly agreed with Nazi Germany to carve up Lithuania and Czechoslovakia.

RIA-Novosti announced Saturday that the book’s presentation had been postponed from Monday to Tuesday. The state news agency did not give an explanation for the delay.

Sergei Markov, a State Duma deputy with United Russia, said much needed to be done to improve relations. “Russophobia is still part of Warsaw’s state ideology and is widespread among the country’s political elite and society,” Markov told The Moscow Times. “It is manifested first and foremost in the field of history.”

But Polish lawmakers were generally upbeat about Putin’s initiative Monday.

Tadeusz Iwinski, a lawmaker for the Democratic Left Alliance, said Putin’s account was much more balanced than “many disturbing accusations” emanating recently from Russia regarding Poland’s role in World War II. “He made a clear step toward historical reconciliation,” Iwinski said by telephone from Warsaw.

He added that parts of Putin’s remarks, such as an analogy between victims of the Katyn massacre and Russian prisoners of war in the 1920s, were not acceptable. Soviet secret police executed more than 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn in 1940.

Putin described the massacre as a “crime” and called for “forgiveness,” adding that the victims’ fate should be remembered together with that of Russian soldiers who perished in captivity during the Polish-Soviet war in 1919-21.

“Time will show whether this will be the Rubicon in Polish-Russian relations,” Iwinsky said, referring to the Italian river whose crossing by Julius Caesar in 49 BC was considered a point of no return.

His comments were echoed by Pawel Kowal, a deputy for the conservative Law and Justice party of former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who described Putin’s presence at Westerplatte as “a new element” in relations.

While the improvement is more in form than in substance, relations are better than they seem, he said. “I do not think the situation is that bad. It’s certainly a good sign that Putin accepted the invitation,” he said by telephone from Warsaw.

He also played down suggestions that Washington was letting Warsaw down by only sending William Perry, a defense secretary under former President Bill Clinton.

“Our relations [with the United States] are defined by a strategic and political partnership, especially in NATO, and should not be judged through the prism of delegation level,” he said.

Polish media reported last week that Washington had scrapped plans to place elements of a missile shield in the country. The State Department has denied the report but said it is still reviewing the plans, which have contributed to a chill in U.S. relations with Moscow.

Putin will join Western leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the war anniversary ceremonies at Westerplatte, where shells from a German ship marked the invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.

Putin will also hold talks with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, news reports said.

Kristina Mikulova contributed to this report.

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