Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 17:40 UK

Poland angry at Soviet war role


World leaders at wreath-laying ceremony in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of WWII

Polish President Lech Kaczynski has voiced his anger at the Soviet role in World War II at commemorations marking the beginning of the global conflict.

In front of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other world leaders, Mr Kaczynski said the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact had divided Europe.

At an earlier event in the port city of Gdansk, he had described Russia's actions as a "stab in the back".

Mr Putin said all pacts with the Nazis were "morally unacceptable".

The day of ceremonies began at the exact time and location where, on 1 September 1939, a German battleship fired at a Polish fort on Westerplatte peninsula - the first shots of World War II.

Graphic of invasion of Poland
1: 0440 German planes attack Wielun killing nearly 1,300 people and destroying some 75% of the town. 2: 0445 German battleship opens fire at point blank range on Polish military post at Westerplatte in the port of Danzig
Graphic of invasion of Poland
Within hours German troops cross Poland's western border and from East Prussia in the north. German aircraft bomb Polish cities and strategic targets. The Germans quickly overwhelm the Polish defenders on their way to Warsaw.
Graphic of invasion of Poland
1: Soviet troops invade from the east. 2: Soviet and German soldiers together. After Poland was overrun Germany and the Soviet Union divide the country between them.
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Speaking at the dawn ceremony, Mr Kaczynski, referring to the occupation of eastern Poland by Soviet forces a fortnight later, said: "On 17 September... Poland received a stab in the back... This blow came from Bolshevik Russia."

A German battleship, the Schleswig-Holstein, bombards the Polish coast at Westerplatte, at the start of World War II

Later, Mr Kaczynski used the occasion of the wreath-laying ceremony to again criticise Moscow for its war, which focused on what he called the tragic occupation Poland endured under the Nazis following its military defeat.

Relations between Poland and Russia are currently thorny, partly because of differing historical interpretations of events at the start of the war.

Mr Kaczynski said the Soviet-German pact, signed a week before the first shots were fired, had divided Europe into areas of influence and had preceded a conflict which caused the deaths of 50 million people.

He also recalled the Katyn massacre of 1940, in which 20,000 Polish officers were killed by Soviet secret services, saying it was an act of chauvinism and in revenge for Polish independence.

For 50 years Moscow blamed the Nazis and only admitted responsibility in 1990, but Russian courts have ruled it cannot be considered a war crime.

Improving relations?

Mr Putin, in his speech after Mr Kaczynski, said all pacts between European states and Nazi Germany were "morally unacceptable," including the 1939 Nazi-Soviet accord.

"All attempts to appease the Nazis between 1934 and 1939 through various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable and politically senseless, harmful and dangerous," Mr Putin said.

"We must admit these mistakes. Our country has done this."

He also said that improved relations between Germany and Russia since the war should be an example for improving Russian-Polish relations.

"We sincerely want Russian-Polish relations to get rid of the accumulated legacy of the past... and to develop in the spirit of good-neighbourliness and co-operation - that is to say, to be worthy of two great European peoples," Mr Putin said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of the "immeasurable suffering" which began with Germany's invasion of Poland.

"No country suffered from German occupation as much as Poland.

"Here at the Westerplatte, as German chancellor, I commemorate all the Poles who suffered unspeakably from the crimes of the German occupying forces."

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