The crimes of Stalin’s regime cannot be justified, Premier Vladimir Putin has said. He added, however, that Russians cannot be blamed for the 1940 massacre in the Katyn forest, where over 20,000 Poles were executed.
"For decades, attempts have been made to cover up the truth about the Katyn executions with cynical lies,” the Russian Prime Minister said, as quoted by RIA Novosti. “However, suggesting that the Russian people are to blame for that is the same kind of lie and fabrication."
On Wednesday, Putin met with his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, in the Russian western city of Smolensk to attend a commemoration service that marked the 70th anniversary of the tragic events. The ceremony took place at a memorial complex erected on a mass grave of victims of Soviet repressions and Polish officers – prisoners of war – killed in Katyn, a forest west of Smolensk.
The Russian premier said that Katyn “has inseparably linked the fates” of the Soviet citizens who fell victim to the repressions, Poles executed in 1940 and Red Army officers who were killed by the Nazis.
“These crimes cannot be justified in any way,” Putin said. “Our country has given a clear political, legal and moral assessment of the evil of the totalitarian regime. And this assessment cannot be revised,” he stressed.
The machine of Stalin's totalitarian regime operated in secrecy, with details still coming out today. Katyn was one of four locations where the Poles were murdered.
Initially, the Soviet Union denied any responsibility and tried to blame Nazi forces for the killings. In the 1930s, Soviet security officials planted a forest to hide the mass graves of thousands of political prisoners who had been murdered and buried.
But a document released by Russian president Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s clearly showed the signature of Joseph Stalin on the execution order. (To read more on the topic, please follow the link)
However, some Polish politicians are still confident that the entire truth has not been revealed. Poland demands that all archives be opened, in order that the "complete truth" be revealed and any surviving perpetrators be brought to justice.
“There are some Polish politicians who actually do not want any apologies from Russia,” says Dmitry Babich, a political analyst for RIA news agency. “They need apologies from Russia to continue bashing Russia. And there are some people who made their political careers on anti-Russian propaganda in Poland.”
“There is nothing that conceals the truth about what was happening and how,” Putin stressed at a joint press conference with Tusk in Smolensk following the commemoration service. Everything has been disclosed in “millions of documents” that were handed over to Poland, the premier said, adding that Russia is going to continue working in that direction.
These political mind games, however, affect not only official relations between Russia and Poland.
“My son's wife often went abroad with groups of tourists. She did not want to go to Russia, the Soviet Union, for a long time,” says Polish WWII veteran Jan Duda. “But when she finally went there and saw everything with her own eyes, she said that people were great but she did not like the political regime.”
Putin thanked Tusk for accepting his invitation to come to Katyn. The meeting has already been dubbed historic in the media and is believed to help improve Moscow-Warsaw relations that, among other things, have been darkened by the bloody events of 1940.
Speaking at the conference, Putin said he believes in positive future relations between the two states. He stressed that Russia sincerely condemns the crimes committed in the past.
“…We have all the chances to move to the future. What is most important is that we are really interested in it,” he added, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
“I am confident that Russia-Poland reconciliation, settling all the complicated issues dating back to the past, have not only bilateral but also a European dimension,” Putin said.
According to the premier, Europe is also interested in creating an atmosphere favorable for the development of cooperation between states.
Donald Tusk, for his part, called Wednesday’s meeting “crucial”, “a turning point” in the relations between Moscow and Warsaw. According to Tusk, its importance will be appreciated by future generations, but today the two states must continue to work together so the Smolensk meeting would not be seen as futile.
“For some people it is a turning point, while for others it is yet another step on the road to reconciliation,” he said.
Tusk admitted that Moscow and Warsaw still have a slightly different view on “some fragments” of the tragedy. “It is only truth that we want to tell about Katyn. Perhaps that truth requires patience,” he said.
Also, Tusk agreed with Putin that both Russians and Poles want relations between the countries to improve.
“Today we took a very important step, as we can now talk about the past, the present, and the future. We can talk as friends, neighbors, and as representatives of two peoples that want to understand each other better,” Donald Tusk said.