Poland’s new leftist government and Russia have agreed to open “a new chapter in the relations of the two former Warsaw Pact allies,” following talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, according to official Russian sources.
Relations between Russia and Poland had been strained while Solidarity controlled the Warsaw government. Solidarity ousted the communists from power in Poland in 1989, and set the stage for the collapse of communist governments throughout Eastern Europe.
Leszek Miller, Poland’s current prime minister, led the ex-communist dominated Democratic Left Alliance to victory over Solidarity in the nation’s October 2001 parliamentary elections.
“Old ideological rubbish” is to be set aside and replaced by a “modern dialogue,” according to a statement issued by Putin and Kwasniewski following their meeting.
The remarks were carried by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.
Although Putin’s visit to Poland was intended to emphasize the desire of Moscow and Warsaw to markedly tighten economic ties, questions arose concerning the relations of the two nations over the past six decades.
Before leaving Russia for his journey to Poland, Putin denied that there was any possibility of an apology for past Russian atrocities committed against the Polish nation, according to a report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Putin stated that an apology could lead to “a balance sheet of who apologized how many times,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Speculation arose that Putin would possibly make a special reference to the massacre of thousands of Polish military personnel in what has come to be called the Katyn Forest Massacre, which occurred in western Russia near the city of Smolensk.
After decades of denial, Soviet ruler Mikhail Gorbachev admitted Russian complicity in the atrocity, and in 1993, on a visit to Poland, Russian President Boris Yeltsin admitted full Russian responsibility.
The events in the Katyn Forest also have an unexpected direct link to Soviet espionage efforts against the United States during that era.
In early 1940, at the orders of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Polish officers captured during Russia’s invasion of Poland – which occurred slightly over two weeks after Germany’s attack that began World War II – were ordered to be executed.
The total of those killed – usually shot in the head – is now estimated at approximately 25,700.
The Soviet secret police – NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) – interrogated the prisoners before they were shot. After the Katyn affair ended, one of the NKVD agents who participated in the interrogations was transferred to the New York/Washington, D.C., area to coordinate Soviet espionage efforts against the U.S.
The Katyn Forest Massacre, however, is only one incident that marked the bloody Russian occupation of Poland during World War II.
According to an article by Andrzej Paczkowski entitled, “Poland, the ‘Enemy Nation’” in the anthology “The Black Book of Communism,” “During the two years of Soviet rule in the eastern half of Poland, approximately 1 million people (10 percent of the population) were directly affected by Soviet repression,” including “execution, prison, the camps, deportation or forced labor.”
In his reference to a “balance sheet” of apologies, Putin did not indicate what events would be in the Polish column of the “balance sheet” requiring Russian forgiveness.
During his visit, Putin chose not to address the Polish parliament, in contrast to his trip to Germany when he addressed the parliament in perfect German.
Although Putin did visit Poland’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, he did not visit a memorial to the Warsaw uprising. In 1944, retreating Nazi forces crushed Polish resistance fighters, who vainly sought Russian assistance. The Red Army halted its advance a few miles away from Warsaw and did not continue until the uprising had failed.
Putin laid a wreath at the memorial to the Red Army in Warsaw and, in an unexpected move, visited a monument to Poland’s Home Army, an important resistance movement during World War II.
The Miller government came to power as the result of economic hardship in Poland. The discussions with Putin were directed toward increasing commercial activity with Russia, leading to a presumed improvement in Poland’s domestic economy.