Premier Putin attended a solemn ceremony in Poland commemorating the WWII outbreak.

The 70th anniversary of the WWII outbreak was commemorated in Gdansk, yesterday. The heads of governments of 21 European country including Vladimir Putin of Russia attended the solemn ceremony. Speaking at the foot of the Westerplatte Memorial, Putin said, “We have to cure bigotry, racial hatred, and mutual distrust based on cynical distortion and falsification of history.” The Russian premier added that all attempts to pacify the Nazis in the 1930s had been unacceptable from the standpoint of morals and dangerous from the political standpoint and urged the countries that had tried it to recognize past mistakes. The Russian Duma had condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, he added.

President of Poland Lech Kaczynski did call participation of his country in the split of Czechoslovakia in 1938 “sinful” but mostly focused his speech on “imperial ambitions” and the right of the Poles “to know the truth”.

Putin’s and Kaczynski’s speeches were particularly memorable. All others including Angela Merkel of Germany, EP Chairman Jerzy Buzek, prime ministers of Sweden Fredrik Reinfeldt, Ukraine Yulia Timoshenko, and Poland Donald Tusk mostly hailed the European Union as a major guarantor of peace (Merkel apologized for Nazism).

Putin pointed out that Soviet citizens accounted for more than half of the 55 millions who perished in World War II. “It behooves us to give a thought to what pushed the world to the fatal line and to corollaries of the attempts to pacify a potential aggressor or ensure one’s own security at the cost of others’,” he said.

The Russian premier called the Treaty of Versailles in the wake of WWI “humiliation” that promoted the Nazi takeover in Germany. “Reconciliation is above the evening of old scores. The Russian-German partnership is a vivid example. Similarly, we want to see the Russian-Polish relations cleared of patina of the past.”

Kaczynski in his turn allowed for the possibility that the Katyn massacre could be vengeance for analogous crimes in 1920 when at least 20,000 Red Army POWs died of starvation and maladies in Polish concentration camps.

Putin had done his best to dot all I’s in the bilateral relations in the course of the negotiations with Tusk several hours before the ceremony. The premiers agreed to let every party stick to its own views and opinions as long as they did not affect the bilateral relations.

Facing journalists afterwards, Putin and Tusk did their best to duck all questions concerning history and concentrate on the future of the bilateral cooperation. Both asked journalists to stop making history and current economic relations political. Journalists, most of them Polish, would not fall in line. The issues they were interested in concerned Katyn and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Putin and Tusk were asked for their opinion of the document and if they regarded it as one of WWII triggers. The Russian premier replied that no efforts to whitewash oneself and pin all the blame on the other party would ever be truly successful or do any good. “Neither do they facilitate mutual understanding and trust,” he added. Putin reminded those present that a year before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed Poland had sent an ultimatum to Czechoslovakia and seized part of this country’s territory together with the Wehrmacht shortly afterwards.

“Two appallingly totalitarian regimes made a pact and sealed the lot of this country,” Tusk said. “Nobody will ever forget the blood the Soviet soldiers shed to liberate Poland from fascist occupation. Soviet soldiers liberated our lands but they could not give us freedom because they themselves lacked it.”

A Georgian journalist asked a question about Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “Our strategy is absolutely clear and understandable,” Putin shrugged. “The international community should make a choice between territorial integrity and the right to self-determination. What you are calling “occupation” peoples of the Caucasus call liberation.”

Someone else asked why Russia was not averse to dealing with Alexander Lukashenko known as “Europe’s last dictator”. “Mr. Lukashenko was elected by direct secret ballot. We always deal with the legitimate authorities and never encourage the processes that might result in anti-constitutional developments,” Putin replied.

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Sergei Stankevich: Putin restored the anti-Hitler coalition

An excerpt from an interview with Sergei Stankevich, once political advisor to President Boris Yeltsin who brought documents on the Katyn massacre to Poland in 1992 and prepared Yeltsin’s visit to Warsaw the following year.

Question: What is your impression of the piece by Putin published in the Polish media?

Sergei Stankevich: That was something really emotional and unprecedented. It is not every day after all that prime ministers write open letters to the people of a neighbor state. All of Europe read Putin letter. They couldn’t help noticing there that Putin condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as immoral. This phrase all but… restored the anti-Hitler coalition. Any attempt to whitewash the pact would have made Russia an outcast. In a word, Putin took but a single step in Poland but this step was of paramount importance.