Leading article: Russia must one day confess its part in Poland's misfortune

Putin's conciliatory words ahead of anniversary fail to go far enough

Share
Related Topics

Seventy years ago today, Adolf Hitler's armies streamed across the western border of Poland, plunging Europe into that six-year-long cataclysm known as the Second World War.

These years would see the virtual extermination of European Jewry in concentration camps, the names of which have passed into history as places of almost unimaginable suffering. Indeed, the scale of Jewish martyrdom in the war has no equal, for almost 80 per cent of the 7 million Jews living in Europe had perished by 1945.

But of the actual states caught in the war, none suffered as terribly as Poland – its territory was overrun and partitioned, its people enslaved and its capital reduced to rubble. A bitter anniversary for Poland, therefore. And an uncomfortable one for one of the leaders of the former Allied powers descending on Gdansk for the anniversary, because, of course, Poland was attacked from the east as well as the west; Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia agreed to divide the Polish spoils between them in August 1939 under the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.

Poles remember the Russian attack, which was carried out in co-ordination with the terms of the pact, with almost as much bitterness as the German invasion. It was, after all, the Soviets and not the Germans who carried out the mass execution of thousands of Polish officers in the forest of Katyn, only to brazenly deny this atrocity for decades.

To the anger of the Poles, as well as the other victims of the Nazi-Soviet pact, Russia has never really admitted its hand in the bloody carve-up of Eastern Europe, except in weasel words. That is why many eyes will be trained on the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's demeanour today in Gdansk. Nervous of prompting a hostile public reaction from his Polish hosts, he delivered some conciliatory words just before leaving Moscow. But they were still disappointingly opaque and evasive, professing understanding for Poland's sense of hurt while still defending the Nazi-Soviet pact as laudable.

Underneath this display of bravado, Russia's leaders surely feel, if not shame, then some embarrassment about their hand in Poland's destruction. It is why they refuse to acknowledge 1 September as a date of any great significance, let alone mark it as the anniversary of the war's beginning. That date is, simply, uncomfortably close to 23 August 1939, when Messrs Molotov and Ribbentrop signed their infamous pact. Indeed, the Russians were initially inclined not to attend today's Gdansk ceremony at all, until it became clear that their absence would only draw attention to a discussion about their former role in Poland's catastrophe.

It is good that Prime Minister Putin has changed his mind and is joining the other world leaders, including Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Gdansk. After all, no one denies that the war could not have been won without Russia, or disputes the scale of Russian suffering after Hitler double-crossed his ally in the Kremlin.

The real pity is that the Kremlin's modern occupants still attempt to glorify Stalin's monstrous aggression towards his neighbours in 1939 at the same time as – rightly – praising the subsequent wartime valour and heroism of the ordinary people of what was then the USSR. Presumably, Russia will one day come to terms with this dark page in its national history. But to judge from Mr Putin's words so far, 70 years on, we are not there yet.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Queen Elizabeth II with members of the Order of Merit  

Either the Queen thinks that only one in 24 Britons are women, or her Order of Merit is appallingly backward

Janet Street-Porter
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...