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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn