Stalin-Hitler pact papers displayed

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The Independent Online

in Moscow

For the first time since Hitler and Stalin carved up Eastern Europe in 1939, a map bearing the Soviet dictator's signature, and other long-classified documents, have gone on display in Moscow, the final act in Russia's tortuous struggle to come clean about the infamous "secret protocols" that underpinned its lost empire.

As part of an exhibition at Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery marking the 50th anniversary of Hitler's defeat, the material provides concrete evidence of Moscow's darkest and almost suicidal exercise in diplomatic realpolitik: the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939.

The exhibition adds little to what has long been known about Stalin's dealings with Hitler before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. But it marks an important effort to open up Russia's vast historical archives for public display.

"This is really sensational," one of its organisers, Tatiana Pavlova, an official at the State Archive Service of Russia, said. "We all know what happened but we are so used to being deceived that we like to see everything with our own eyes and touch the facts."

Soviet leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, for decades denied there was a deal with Nazi Germany to divide Europe.It was not until 1989 that Moscow ceased stone-walling. In a statement to the Soviet parliament, Alexander Yakovlev, an aide to Mr Gorbachev, conceded the secret protocols did exist. The Supreme Soviet then declared the deal illegitimate, heralding the collapse of Soviet rule over the Baltic states.

The exhibition includes a map of Europe showing a divided Poland, signed by Stalin in blue crayon, and by Hitler's Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, in red ink. It is dated 28 November 1939.

Another map, captured from Nazi archives at the end of the Second World War, is labelled "Barbarossa" and outlines the German General Staff's plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Soviet reports predicting an attack are scribbled with denials from Stalin, who refused to believe Hitler would attack.

Also on display are the diplomatic protocols signed in Moscow by Ribbentrop and Stalin's Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov. One protocol, agreed in August 1939, granted Moscow Latvia, Estonia, a large chunk of Poland and the Romanian region of Bessarabia.

A second, signed a month later, gave Moscow Lithuania. Mrs Pavlova said most of the documents had been held in "closed" archives formerly belonging to the Communist Party Central Committee.

Their release was organised by a special commission, set up last year by President Boris Yeltsin, to declassify documents ahead of the anniversary of the fall of Berlin in May 1945.

Roy Medvedev, a Russian historian, complained that many documents remain hidden in locked archives. "In our state, even documents relating to the Civil War 75 years ago are still secret," he said.