Polish Leader Visits USSR Massacre Site
( Newsvine ) Poland's president made his first visit to Russia on Monday - not for a meeting with top officials but to commemorate Poles killed by the Soviet secret police in World War II, news reports said.
Lech Kaczynski visited the cemetery holding remains of the estimated 22,000 victims of the Katyn massacre in western Russia, marking the 69th anniversary of the start of the Soviet invasion of Poland.
By going to such an emotionally sensitive site and by failing to meet with President Vladimir Putin , Kaczynski's trip appeared to underline persistent Russia-Poland tensions, which have been constant since Poland broke away from Soviet control in 1989.
Russia resents Poland's European Union and NATO membership and is upset over Poland's willingness to host elements of a U.S. missile-defense system.
Poland in turn regards Russia warily, concerned about its reliability as a supplier of natural gas, and many Poles continue to stew over Moscow's dominance of the country in much of the 20th century.
"Historical memory is very significant. But this does not mean that we will live keeping in mind only such memory," Kaczynski was quoted as saying in a speech at Katyn by the Polish news agency PAP.
He stressed that most of the perpetrators of the Katyn massacre have died and that those now in power in Poland and Russia were unconnected to the killings.
"We have a new Russia. We must live thinking of the future and we must look at the past in a peaceful way but with respect for the truth," Kaczynski said, according to PAP.
Putin's representative, Georgi Poltavchenko , greeted Kaczynski and said he hopes the visit serves a "further development of friendly relations and of mutual understanding" between the two nations. He appealed for memory of the moments when "our nations were together," PAP reported.
The Soviet Union invaded Poland on Sept. 17, 1939, less than three weeks after Nazi Germany invaded from the West. Soon afterward, Polish officers were taken prisoner. In 1940, many were killed by a shot to the back of the head in the Katyn forest, and elsewhere, too, according to historical accounts.
The Nazis discovered the mass graves during their march on Moscow in the fall of 1941. But Soviet propaganda blamed the deaths on Adolf Hitler and punished anyone speaking the truth with harsh prison terms.
In 1990, Moscow admitted that dictator Josef Stalin's secret police were responsible.