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27 Oct, 2008 04:21

Time to build bridges with Poland

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has been meeting Polish policy-makers on Monday in an effort to rebuild diplomatic bridges.

Relations between the countries have almost always been difficult. Moreover, they have recently been sorely tested by arguments over the U.S. missile shield, the Georgia conflict and Soviet history.

In August Poland sealed a deal, long opposed by Russia, to host part of the U.S. missile defence system. Talks dragged on for over a year but as the ripples of the South Ossetian conflict spread through Europe, the deal was rushed through. Even before the formal signing, Dmitry Medvedev slammed the move.

“The new anti-missile forces to be deployed in Europe are targeted at Russia. And the corresponding moment for doing this has been chosen. That’s why those tall tales about containing some rogue states are not working,” he said in Sochi on August 15.

The strained ties between the two countries are also driving a wedge between Moscow and the European Union. After Russia banned Polish meat imports in 2005, citing health concerns, Poland vetoed talks on a new Russia-EU partnership agreement.

“Georgia's problem is everybody's business. It's the business of every country which has a problem with the dominance of stronger neighbours,” said the Polish president Lech Kaszynski.

Poland still remains one of the countries that oppose a quick thaw with Moscow. However, EU officials stress that it is not about one country's stance.

“It was the European Union that had a problem with Russia and it wasn’t only Poland who had a problem. Russia shouldn’t not forget that we are now a union, where we do our business together,” said Ria Oomen Ruijten from the EU-Russian Cooperation Committee.

Along with problems of the present, Russia and Poland still have disagreements over more historical issues.

In early 1940 Joseph Stalin ordered the execution of thousands of Polish officers. The tragedy, known as the Katyn massacre, was acknowledged by Mihkail Gorbachev in 1990. Later Boris Yeltsin publicly repented and apologised.

However, while Russia closed the case, Poland still considers it one of genocide and wants further investigation. Vladislav Shved, the author of “The Mystery of Katyn”, has spent years researching the events and says there are still more questions than answers.

“The Soviets are only responsible for part of the shootings. There’s evidence that the Germans also executed Polish officers at Katyn forest in 1941, but no one wants to know the truth,” he said.

In the course of Monday’s meeting, Lavrov warned about biased interpretations of history. “A speculative look at history creates new political myths which spoil our relations,” he said.

The Russian FM added then that it is unacceptable to put the Nazi and Soviet regimes on an equal footing.

“ We see as blasphemous attempts by some politicians to put the fascist occupation and the Soviet army's liberating mission on an equal footing, and to justify the Nazis' accomplices,” he said.
In turn, the Polish side acknowledged that the Katyn case “poisons” its relationship with Russia and asked that the remaining archives be opened.

The head of the Polish delegation Adam Ritfeld said that the Katyn case was central to Monday’s meeting.

“There are questions that require archives to be opened and here we need the decision to be made at the political level,” he said.

Related links

Russia promises bases in South Ossetia by 2009

Czechs to discuss future of US missile defence

U.S. missile shield aimed at Russia: Medvedev

Russia – Poland talks focus on missile shield wrangle