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Medvedev and Komorowski mend fences

Russia will continue “cleaning up its historical debris,” President Dmitry Medvedev said at a joint news conference after talks with his Polish counterpart Bronislaw Komorowski in Warsaw.

The main apple of discord between Moscow and Warsaw has been the so-called Katyn Massacre, a WWII event in which 22,000 Polish officers were murdered by the Soviet secret police. Talking about the “clean up of historical debris”, President Medvedev referred primarily to that event.

“We will continue moving in this direction,” Medvedev said. “It’s necessary for the Polish people and, in no lesser degree, for Russians, because a great number of people perished in political repressions in our country.”

“This will be a long road,” said Bronislaw Komorowski. “But together we will be able to reach our goals.”

For decades, the Soviet Union denied any participation in this tragedy, and only recently has the Russian State Duma officially admitted the guilt of the Soviet officials for the execution, a move which was warmly welcomed by the Polish government.

During the talks the two leaders also discussed other – more recent – issues that have been souring bilateral relations for several years now, namely energy co-operation and security. Russia and Poland have been at odds over the deployment of US anti-missile defense system on Polish territory, and for a long time compromise seemed almost impossible to find – until the US shelved its plans.

“NATO should make decisions which take into account the alliance’s security interests but also think about threats to other countries,” the Polish president stated.

Medvedev said in an earlier interview to the Polish press that Russia is modernizing, and called on Poland to put aside historic differences and establish a new level of understanding and trust.

“In order to move our relations to a new, partnership, future-oriented and strategic level, the public opinion in Poland should also change and the new vision of the new Russia should appear,” said the Russian leader.

Russian-Polish relations took a new turn in April earlier this year, when then-President of Poland Lech Kaczynski died in a plane crash while heading to a commemorative event at Katyn. Although the tragedy caused many allegations of Russia being responsible for Kaczynski’s death, many say that it became a new step in bringing Moscow and Warsaw together in reconciling their past issues and working towards a new type of relationship, a more honest, frank and trusting one.

Though demolishing historic stereotypes is a difficult task, says Anton Bespalov from the “Voice of Russia” radio station, the two nations’ decision to foster dialogue signifies an “unprecedented step in their relations.

There is work to be done by the two sides to get each other’s [opinions across] and discuss it more openly,” Bespalov said, adding that the process could eventually resolve “hard challenges,” and “historic contradictions.”

­“This is a new beginning,” says Piotr Kaczynski from the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies. “But we have to remember that the two states still have their interests – and they are indeed often diverging.”

As for co-operation between Moscow and Warsaw on Russia’s initiative of a joint missile defense project for Europe, “Poland will definitely play a great role in reaching a consensus on that”, Kaczynski believes.