Russia formally pins blame on Stalin at Katyn
The Russian parliament on Friday agreed a "historic" declaration that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin personally ordered the Katyn massacre of Polish officers in World War II.
The landmark decision came amid reports that President Dmitry Medvedev was intending to launch a major new "de-Stalinization" drive that reminded Russians of the Soviet dictator's crimes and declassified once-secret information.
The State Duma lower house of parliament resolution breaks several years of official reluctance to admit that Stalin and the Soviet leadership ordered the killing of thousands of Polish officers in 1940.
The document conceded that history could no longer be avoided and that it was time to lay waste to the myths spread by "official Soviet propaganda."
"Materials that for many years have been kept in secret archives and have now been published not only show the extent of this terrible tragedy but show that that Katyn crime was carried out on the direct orders of Stalin and other Soviet leaders," Interfax quoted the declaration as saying.
The statement was agreed at an unusually stormy two-hour session that featured virulent opposition from the minority Communist Party -- whose leaders still say the massacre could have been committed by the Nazis.
But pro-Kremlin lawmakers hailed an outcome that was supported by all the other major Duma groups.
"This declaration is without exaggeration of historic importance," the head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev was quoted as saying on the website of ruling party United Russia.
Polish officials welcomed the move as a vital first step in advance of Medvedev's bridge-building visit to Warsaw next month.
"This is a good step and an important sign," said Poland's parliament speaker Grzegorz Schetyna.
"President Medvedev's visit will thus take place in a better atmosphere," said Schetyna, a close ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski.
About 22,000 Polish officers were executed by the NKVD secret police around the Katyn forest of western Russia one year after Soviet troops invaded Poland under a secret pact with Germany.
The Soviet Union initially blamed the massacre on the Nazis and its guilt was only admitted by ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev just before the Soviet Union's collapse in 1990.
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.
Russia has since handed over 20 volumes of Katyn documents and officials said Medvedev would highlight the deadly role played by Stalin's secret services when he launches a new drive to debunk the Soviet version of history next year.
"Will this project give an evaluation of specific organisations? Yes, I think so," the Kremlin's human rights envoy Yury Fedotov told Interfax.
Medvedev's campaign bears similarities to a drive launched in the 1950s by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev -- who not only denounced the dictator's cult of personality but even removed his body from Lenin's Mausoleum on Red Square.
News reports said that Medvedev would declassify all secret Soviet archives and the millions of case files compiled on regular civilians by the police.
But Katyn remains a particularly sensitive subject in Russia and the Duma took pains Friday to adopt language that also acknowledged the Soviet losses.
"Thousands of Soviet citizens destroyed by the Stalin regime in 1936-38 remain buried in the ditches of Katyn," said the Duma document.
"The technology of conducting mass murders was perfected on these people and then applied against the Polish servicemen at the same place," the Duma statement said.
© 2010 AFP