Stalin ‘killed Poles for re­venge’

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

MOSCOW: Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Putin made an un­prece­dented ges­ture of good­will to Poland on Wed­nes­day by at­tend­ing a memo­rial cer­e­mony for 22,000 Poles ex­e­cuted by Soviet se­cret po­lice dur­ing World War Two. But hours later he soured the mood by of­fer­ing a con­tro­ver­sial jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the mas­sacres.

Af­ter at­tend­ing the solemn event with Pol­ish Prime Min­is­ter Don­ald Tusk, Mr Putin said Soviet dic­ta­tor Josef Stalin or­dered the atroc­ity as re­venge for the death of Red Army sol­diers in Pol­ish pris­oner of war camps in 1920. Mr Putin said 32,000 troops un­der Stalin’s com­mand had died of hunger and dis­ease in the Pol­ish camps.

‘‘It is my per­sonal opin­ion that Stalin felt per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for this tragedy, and car­ried out the ex­e­cu­tions [of Poles in 1940] out of a sense of re­venge,’’ Mr Putin said.

US Se­na­tor Ben­jamin Cardin, who has ad­vo­cated greater Rus­sian recog­ni­tion of the atroc­i­ties, said there can be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the mur­der of in­no­cent peo­ple.

‘‘I think try­ing to ra­tio­nalise the mas­sacre in any way is un­war­ranted. You can’t jus­tify that un­der any sce­nario. It was sense­less and there was no just cause. Those are the facts,’’ Sen Cardin, who chairs the US Helsinki Com­mis­sion, said.

Ear­lier on Tues­day, Mr Putin of­fered a ges­ture of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to Poland by be­com­ing the first Rus­sian leader to ever com­mem­o­rate the Katyn mas­sacres with a Pol­ish leader. He said ear­lier in the day that the two na­tions’ ‘‘fates had been in­ex­orably joined’’ by the atroc­i­ties.

The 22,000 Pol­ish of­fi­cers, pris­on­ers and in­tel­lec­tu­als were mas­sa­cred by Stalin’s se­cret po­lice in 1940 in and around Katyn, a vil­lage near Rus­sia’s bor­der with Be­larus.

Dur­ing the cer­e­mony, Mr Putin also of­fered what ap­peared to be his harsh­est con­dem­na­tion of Stalin’s rule to date on Tues­day, say­ing: ‘‘In our coun­try there has been a clear po­lit­i­cal, le­gal and moral judge­ment made of the evil acts of this to­tal­i­tar­ian regime, and this judge­ment can­not be re­vised.’’

But his speech stopped short of of­fer­ing any apol­ogy to Poland or call­ing the mas­sacres a war crime, as some of­fi­cials in Poland and the United States had urged him to do.

Also, while giv­ing the go-ahead to a joint his­toric com­mis­sion on the mat­ter, Mr Putin gave no con­crete pledge that all Soviet archives doc­u­ment­ing it would fi­nally be un­sealed.

Mr Tusk used his emo­tional speech about the Pol­ish vic­tims to push Mr Putin on this point.

‘‘Prime min­is­ter, they are here. They are in this soil. The eye sock­ets of their bul­let-pierced skulls are looking and wait­ing to see whether we are able to trans­form vi­o­lence and lies into rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,’’ Mr Tusk said.

Mr Putin said Rus­sia al­ready has dis­closed ev­ery­thing ex­cept for the per­pe­tra­tors’ names, which are be­ing kept se­cret out of ‘‘hu­man­i­tar­ian’’ re­gard for their sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives.

Mr Putin also said Rus­sian peo­ple should not be blamed for the atroc­i­ties.

‘‘For decades, at­tempts have been made to cover up the truth about the Katyn ex­e­cu­tions with cyn­i­cal lies, but sug­gest­ing that the Rus­sian peo­ple are to blame for that is the same kind of lie and fabri­ca­tion,’’ he said.

For half a cen­tury, Soviet of­fi­cials claimed that the mass ex­e­cu­tions had been car­ried out by Nazi oc­cu­piers dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. But the Soviet Union un­der Mikhail Gor­bachev’s rule ad­mit­ted in 1990 that the crimes had been com­mit­ted by Stalin’s NKVD se­cret po­lice, a pre­cur­sor to the KGB.

The dis­clo­sure opened the flood­gates of his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness across the Soviet Union, speed­ing its demise as na­tions across the East­ern bloc awoke to the hor­rors of the Soviet regime and sought in­de­pen­dence. AP

Vladimir Putin

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