Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 16:44 UK

Polish, Russian press welcome Putin gesture

Vladimir Putin (left) and Donald Tusk
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with Polish counterpart Donald Tusk

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to reduce tension between his country and Poland - in the form of an article in a Polish newspaper - has been largely welcomed by some Polish commentators.

Others, however, felt he should have gone further and offered an apology for crimes committed against Poles by the Soviet Union.

Mr Putin described as immoral the non-aggression pact between Russia and Nazi Germany at the outset of the Second World War. He also acknowledged that the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by the Red Army at a forest near the village of Katyn had stirred powerful emotions in Poland, amid continued anger at modern Russia's attitude towards the crime.

In a piece in the same newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski highlighted the lack of freedom in Poland during the Soviet period. Meanwhile, Russian commentators welcomed Mr Putin's conciliatory remarks as bringing hope of better ties with Poland, but at least one writer felt the Poles should be grateful to the Soviets.


Hearing the voice of Vladimir Putin, the most influential modern Russian politician, is an important event. Alongside the aggressive rhetoric of Great Russia nationalists, who repeat the lies of Stalin propaganda… this voice sounds very different. Discussion on history can be risky… That is why we want the historians of the two countries to be given access to the countries' archives. We are especially interested in publishing all the materials on the Katyn crime. This will be a very good signal for the Poles.


Though Putin's article is perceived controversially, the very fact of its appearance was a sensation itself. The Russian prime minister publishes his thoughts in the press on very rare occasions. His previous article appeared in the Financial Times three years ago... Polish cabinet spokesman Pawel Gras said that Putin's theses are not completely in line with the Polish stance. When asked if the gesture by the Russian leader signalled a breakthrough in the contacts between Warsaw and Moscow, he said that relations with Russia were always a big unknown.


The [Putin] article has heated up the already hot atmosphere before Putin's speech on Westerplatte today. "This article is not enough," Przemyslaw Gosiewski, the chief of the Law and Justice [PiS] parliamentary caucus, has said. He believes that it should have contained "an apology for the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and for the crimes it led to"… Polish parliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, who accepted Putin's article "with great relief", believes that the letter contains "a couple of statements Poland always wanted to hear"… [Some] commentators point out that the tone of Putin's letter is softer than the recent aggressive anti-Poland campaign by the Russian media and state institutions.


Joachim von Ribbentrop signing the ratification of the Nazi-Soviet pact in Berlin, 28 September 1939
In 1989 Soviet lawmakers condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact

European integration redefines the basic guidelines of Poland's foreign policy and affects its choice of allies and partners… [and this, in part, makes it] possible for the commemorations in Gdansk to be attended by the heads of countries which back in 1939 were Poland's sworn enemies. 1 September will above all remain a day of celebration of the defeat of the murderous ideology of fascism, which together with totalitarian communism was the biggest plague of pre-WWII Europe.

It should be remembered that for some countries, including Poland, victory over the Nazis was only a symbolic success, because their dream of freedom had to remain unfulfilled for several more decades. As a consequence of falling into the Soviet sphere of influence, Poland was long deprived of the possibility of participating in the revolutionary progress that led to the formation of Nato and the EU.


Putin seems to be willing to say the words the Polish people have been longing to hear... It is the first time that Putin has condemned the [Molotov-Ribbentrop] pact so unequivocally... A 'reset' in bilateral relations will be beneficial for both sides.


The ruling regimes of the countries that participated in WWII were furthering their own selfish interests. The role of Stalin, and especially Hitler, in starting the war is beyond doubt. Almost all the key players in the pre-war world had a hand in arranging the biggest drama in the history of humanity. Since everyone is to blame to an extent, the conclusion is clear: 70 years is long enough to stop viewing each other as enemies, even as former ones.


What exactly should Russia say sorry to the Polish for? For the fact that on 17 September [1939] Soviet troops entered the country, which had already practically disintegrated as a result of the German invasion?... Don't the Polish want to thank our country for the fact that Wroclaw, Szczecin and Gdansk now belong to Poland? Hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers gave their lives for this, and they are now being referred to as invaders.


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit Gdansk today, where he will take part in the events to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. Mr Putin visited Poland in 2005 as Russian president. Since then relations between the two countries have been deteriorating, and there is a chance that today's visit will improve them. Because of the campaign to counter the falsification of history that has started in Russia, the visit will hardly go smoothly.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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