Putin Praises Poland for Bravery in World War II

MOSCOW —Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II on Tuesday, praised Polish soldiers and citizens for their bravery in the war, even as the Russian government unveiled what it said were previously classified documents showing Polish cooperation with Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the war.Mr. Putin’s conciliatory remarks appeared to be aimed at dampening a row between Russia and Poland over each country’s role in the war, a debate that grew heated in the weeks leading up to the war’s anniversary.

“Russia has always respected the bravery and heroism of the Polish people, soldiers, and officers, who stood up first against Nazism in 1939,” Mr. Putin said in a meeting with his counterpart, Donald Tusk, in the port city of Gdansk.

Mr. Tusk responded that relations between the two countries had never been better.

“Our meeting showed from the first minute that we are making another step toward strengthening confidence in the past so that we can build our future on it,” Mr. Tusk said.

Many in Poland are angered by what they see as Russia’s failure to acknowledge atrocities committed by the Soviet Union after its troops occupied eastern Poland just weeks after the Nazis invaded.

“They split Poland in two parts,” Andrzej Halicki, chairman of the Polish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said by telephone. “We were under occupation by Russians and by Germans.”

Such sentiments have incensed the Russian government, which sees the Soviet Union’s role in World War II as that of liberator and not occupier. Recent attempts by Poland to equate Nazi atrocities during World War II to the actions of Soviet troops have prompted a backlash among Russian officials and in the media.

Russia’s Foreign Security Service unveiled archival documents on Tuesday purporting to show Polish cooperation with Nazi Germany ahead of World War II as well as active Polish attempts to sow discord within the Soviet Union among ethnic nationalities to destabilize the country.

“Without a doubt, a portion of the blame for unleashing the Second World War lies with Poland, which is why they are attempting to distort historical fact,” Lev F. Sotskov, a major general in the Foreign Security Service, said at a press conference in Moscow.

In Poland, however, Mr. Putin seemed to step back from the debate.

“History is complex and is not painted just one color,” he said. “A lot of wrong steps were made in Europe, which eventually caused the tragedy,” he said.

He had said as much in a lengthy article published on Monday in the Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, characterizing the Nazi-Soviet pact to divide Poland at the outset of World War II in 1939 as immoral, but he stressed that it was just one of a series of such deals that countries struck with the Nazis at that time.

Mr. Putin called the nonaggression pact, which included secret amendments defining spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, “analogous” to the agreement by Britain and France a year earlier at Munich to accept the German invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Mr. Putin released his historical interpretation on the eve of his visit to Poland for a commemoration of the start of World War II, 70 years ago this week.

The pact — which was followed by German and Soviet invasions of Poland — remains a source of anger in Poland and the article heightened expectations of what Mr. Putin would say during his visit.

Ria Novosti, an official Russian news agency, reported that Mr. Putin would use the trip to counter what the Russians call efforts by Eastern Europeans to recast the causes and lessons of World War II. Russia looks upon the war as a searing event in its history, one in which, by some estimates, 25 million Soviet citizens died.

In his article, Mr. Putin wrote that he was compelled to discuss the pact, named Molotov-Ribbentrop for the Soviet and Nazi foreign ministers who negotiated the accord, because it was being cited today by countries who have traced their postwar Soviet occupation to this agreement.

“It is indicative that history is often slanted by those who actually apply double standards in modern politics,” he wrote.

The article, posted in Russian on the Russian government Web site, did not backtrack on earlier Russian condemnations of the pact or apologies for the subsequent massacre of Polish officers at Katyn Forest.

But it did highlight a theme that has been prominent on Russian state television in recent weeks: that even Poland was complicit in making deals with the Nazis. The article notes that the Polish Army occupied two provinces of Czechoslovakia at the same time the German Army invaded that country following the Munich agreement with France and Britain in 1938.

Mr. Putin argues that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was inevitable after the Western allies had accepted the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

He called that an effort by the West to “ ‘buy off’ Hitler and redirect his aggression to the east.”

Stalin’s government, Mr. Putin wrote, signed the agreement because it was facing aggression in the east from Japan and did not want war on two fronts.

Mr. Putin did not mention that the Nazi-Soviet pact also restored a portion of the Russian empire lost after World War I and coveted by Stalin.


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