Poland’s foreign ministry summoned Russia’s ambassador for urgent talks in response to statements regarding World War Two history by Vladimir Putin and other leading Russian figures.

Last week, Putin triggered the diplomatic spat by suggesting that Poland was responsible for causing World War Two and claiming that the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in 1939 – under the terms of a pact with Nazi Germany – helped to save lives.

Poland responded by accusing Putin of reviving “Stalinist propaganda” and “undermining fundamental facts about the role of the Soviet Union in unleashing the slaughter of World War Two”. It also pointed to the brutality of the Soviet occupation, which saw hundreds of thousands of Poles arrested, deported and murdered.

Putin continued to pursue the issue over the following days, with BBC Monitoring noting that he has mentioned Poland and its role in World War Two on at least five separate occasions over the last week, often at events that have “little to do with history or even foreign policy”. The Russian president “is also planning to pen an article about the subject”, reports the BBC.

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin went even further, directly accusing Poland of “collaborating with Nazi Germany 80 years ago”. He called on Polish leaders today to “be honest and apologise” instead of continuing to “brush it under the carpet, to put the blame on others and to invent something”, reports TASS.

Today, following the Christmas holiday, Poland’s foreign ministry has issued a further response. Deputy Minister Marcin Przydacz said recent events “show that Stalin’s historical narrative is consciously and aggressively trying to introduce itself into the Russian historical imagination”.

“These claims based on the propaganda of a totalitarian state are in gross contravention of the international obligations of the Russian Federation, and are also a mockery of the millions of victims of Stalinist totalitarianism, of which the Russian nation was also a victim,” continued Przydacz, quoted by TVN24.

These efforts to distort history offer further evidence of why it is so important to condemn not only Nazi but also Soviet totalitarianism, said Przydacz. “Apparently it is necessary for the Kremlin authorities to work through the failure of the Soviet project.”

Putin’s recent remarks appear to have been sparked by his anger at the European Parliament’s decision in September to declare an International Day of Heroes of the Fight against Totalitarianism on 25 May – the date in 1948 that Witold Pilecki, a Polish resistance leader, was executed by the communist authorities.

In a resolution, MEPs declared that World War Two was “an immediate result of the notorious Nazi-Soviet Treaty of Non-Aggression” and that “Nazi and Communist regimes brought about mass murders, genocide, deportations and loss of life on a scale hitherto unseen in human history”.

The latest row follows tension earlier this year over Poland’s decision not to invite Russia to attend the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. Whereas world leaders including Donald Trump and Angela Merkel were invited, Vladimir Putin was not.

Russia’s foreign ministry criticised the decision, saying that it was the Soviet Union which “liberated Poland from the Nazi aggressors”. Polish president Andrzej Duda responded by saying that Poland wanted to commemorate the event only with countries that work towards “peace in a world based on the principles of observing international law”.

Russia under Putin has pushed strongly to deny that the Soviet Union was an aggressor responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War alongside Nazi Germany.

In 2015, Russia’s ambassador to Poland, Sergey Andreev, claimed that “Poland was partly responsible for” being invaded by Nazi Germany, because it had “repeatedly blocked the formation of a coalition against Hitler”. The Soviet Union’s occupation of eastern Poland was simply an act of self-defence, he said.

The following year, Russia’s Supreme Court upheld a sentence against a blogger who had reposted a text saying that the Soviets and Nazis “closely collaborated” in the “joint invasion of Poland”. He was responsible for “circulating false information”, found the court, and therefore guilty of “rehabilitating Nazism”.

In 2018, Associated Press acceded to Russian pressure to delete a reference to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as “former allies” who had “carved up Poland” together. AP accepted Russia’s argument that the “pact was never formally recognised as an alliance”.

Main image credit: kremlin.ru (under CC BY 4.0)

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