Poland hails Russian blame for Stalin over WWII killings

26th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Poland on Friday hailed the Russian parliament's declaration blaming Joseph Stalin for a World War II massacre, a week before Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev makes an official visit.

"This is a good step, and an important sign," Poland's speaker of parliament Grzegorz Schetyna told reporters, noting that the acknowledgement that the Soviet dictator personally ordered the Katyn massacre of Polish officers came just over a week before Medvedev visits.

"President Medvedev's visit will thus take place in a better atmosphere," added Schetyna, a key ally of liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski.

On Friday, Russia's State Duma lower house of parliament agreed a text that breaks several years of official reluctance to admit that Stalin and the Soviet leadership ordered the killings in 1940.

About 22,000 Polish officers were executed in 1940 by the NKVD Soviet secret police around Katyn forest in western Russia and a number of other sites.

They had been captured after the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany sealed a pact to invade and carve up Poland in 1939.

Their mass graves were uncovered by the Nazis after they ripped up the pact and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

The massacre long strained Moscow's relations with Warsaw, all the more so because in post-war, communist-era Poland it could not be blamed publicly on the Soviets.

The Soviet Union pinned the massacre on the Nazis and its guilt was only admitted by then-Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, a year before the bloc collapsed.

But the crime was rarely again acknowledged in public until the April 10 air crash that killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski -- as he was to attend a ceremony at Katyn -- brought a new rapprochement in Warsaw-Moscow ties.

© 2010 AFP

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