ROAR: Russia, Poland have a chance to improve relations

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is visiting Gdansk, Poland, for the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. Analysts predict he will have difficult discussions there over the war.

Putin is going to discuss “contentious issues” linked to the war, the Russian media reported, citing the prime minister’s advisor Yury Ushakov. At the same time, the Russian government is hoping to give a boost to Russian-Polish relations, the papers stress.

Some 76% of Poles, in their turn, are waiting for “apologies” from Moscow, Polish paper Rzeczpospolita wrote. However, many Polish politicians doubt that these expectations will be fulfilled, the paper said.

Many in Poland believe the Soviet Union was responsible for letting Hitler invade their country in 1939, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed. The recent poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) showed that 63% of Russians surveyed believed that Joseph Stalin wanted to postpone war by signing the pact.

Warsaw and other European capitals are waiting for Putin’s speech at the ceremony dedicated to the beginning of World War II, RBC daily wrote. Putin’s visit may open “a new page in Russia’s relations not only with Poland, but also with Eastern Europe,” the paper said.

“Having lost the US’s support, Eastern Europe is demonstrating its readiness to form new relations with Moscow, based on parity and mutual respect,” the paper noted. “The tactic of blackmail with the help of historical complaints has exhausted itself.”

Another “contentious issue” in relations between the two countries is the Katyn case, or executions of Polish officers in the Soviet Union. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has promised to remind Putin “who was executioner and who was a victim during World War II,” Russian media reported.

“In reality, however, the Polish side has tried to smooth as much as possible all the aspects of the upcoming ceremony which could be treated as anti-Russian,” the paper said. “The events devoted to the Soviet intrusion [into Poland in 1939], have been scheduled for September 17.”

The Polish Institute of National Remembrance has published new estimates of the number of Poles who were exiled to Siberia after 1939. If earlier the Polish side estimated them at one million people, now they cite the figure of 320 thousand people, RBC daily wrote.

“Such radical revision of the results of the Russian occupation serves as new evidence to the fact that [Poland’s] historical claims to Russia have been for Warsaw first of all the means of political blackmail,” the paper stressed. “Feeling unconditional US support, the Polish leadership have used the Katyn case and the 1939 pact as an instrument of pressure on Russia.”

At the same time, the main goal of Putin’s visit will be the attempt to oppose revision of WWII events within the global context, Ushakov said. He added that Russia will not declassify the Katyn files containing a secrecy label. “Everything what can be declassified has already been,” the Russian media quote Ushakov as saying.

Poles also sharply criticize estimates of the pre-war events in the documentary about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, shown recently on the Rossiya state channel. Polish parliamentarians even wanted to ask Putin if Russia’s policy “in the field of history is a part of Stalin’s policy,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said.

“However, the participants of the event [in Gdansk] seem to have approached a consensus,” the paper added. “The Polish president has refused to take part in the discussion dedicated to offensive films on Russian television.”

Many papers still describe the situation with Putin’s visit as “difficult.” One in three Poles, according to surveys, does not want Putin to visit their country, Inessa Yashborovskaya, professor of the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Many want him to say some condemning words about the scandalous film, the paper said.

The “scandals” surrounding the visit, makes the situation more difficult for Putin, Aleksey Arbatov, analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said. “He is going there as a brave man, it is difficult to intimidate him,” Arbatov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

“It will be impossible for Putin not to go to Poland, it would be a boycott,” Arbatov stressed. “He had to go, but I can only describe as unbridled all this campaign [in Russia] with articles, films and search for falsifiers of history,” he added.

Arbatov believes Russia could stress that it is a different state now, that “it has condemned the totalitarian regime and is building democracy.” But instead of insisting that “we are not responsible for the crimes of Stalinism, we begin to say that Stalin was a good manager,” Arbatov said.

“Our critics should be grateful to those who reinforce their arguments,” he added. And these critics “in Poland, the Baltic countries, in Ukraine, Georgia, not to mention the West, are insisting on the need of a new policy of containing Russia,” he said.

Russia may reply to the critics, first of all, in Poland, in a very tough way, some analysts predict. “The Kremlin, as well as a number of European capitals, has noted a dramatic chill in relations between Warsaw and Washington after Barack Obama was elected the president,” commentator Ivan Yartsev wrote on website. He assumed that Moscow may “write off Poland again.”

Russia opposes the US plans to deploy elements of missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. Washington may still reconsider its decision, the media reported last week.

However, RBC daily believes the change in relations between Warsaw and Washington may prompt Russia and Poland to “build new ties.” “Tomorrow Putin’s speech in Gdansk will show if Moscow is ready to agree to reconciliation,” the paper said.

Disagreements over historic events will still hinder Russian and Polish relations, observers believe. “The positive aspect of the problem, which the Russian side could propose, is to consider these events [of WWII] as a mutual fight for the sake of victory,” Nezavisimay Gazeta wrote. “Moreover, Putin’s visit involves some important mutual economic agreements, which will also help to clear the atmosphere,” the paper added.

Sergey Borisov, RT