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Putin Will Not Attend Auschwitz Anniversary, Spokesman Says

  • RFE/RL

Auschwitz concentration camp gate, with the inscription "Arbeit macht frei", after its liberation by Soviet troops in January 1945

Auschwitz concentration camp gate, with the inscription "Arbeit macht frei", after its liberation by Soviet troops in January 1945

Vladimir Putin's spokesman says the Russian president will not attend ceremonies in Poland this month marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz death camp.

The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on January 13 that there is no such trip on Putin's schedule.

"He will not go, although we of course have attached and do attach great importance -- especially on the 70th anniversary of victory [in World War II] -- to all memorial events, including those that will take place in Poland," Peskov said, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

He said Putin had received neither a "personal invitation" nor an "official invitation" to the January 27 commemoration ceremony but added that "as a rule, if our understanding is correct, official invitations are not sent for such events."

Peskov later told Ekho Moskvy radio that Putin's schedule was very tight and he didn't have a window for travel.

The main ceremony in front of the Auschwitz camp's gates will be led by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

Putin spoke at the 60th anniversary commemoration events in 2005.

But Russia's ties with the West have been driven to post-Cold War lows after Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for separatists whose conflict with government forces has killed more than 4,700 people in eastern Ukraine.

Relations with Poland are particularly strained.

Approximately 6 million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, including more than 1 million people who died in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Putin's absence would be more notable than that of many other world leaders because of the role of the Soviet Union, whose forces liberated the death camp on January 27, 1945 -- a day marked every year as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The organizers -- the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and International Auschwitz Council -- informed embassies of EU nations and donor countries that the observances will be taking place on January 27 and asked them to say whether they would be sending delegations and at what level.

Museum director Piotr Cywinski told The Associated Press that invitations were not sent to any country, and denied that the procedure was aimed at snubbing Putin.

Reuters quoted a source involved in negotiations over the event as saying the Polish government sent foreign states what is called a "note verbale" about the Auschwitz events.

The source said Poland chose that format because it would have been unpopular among Polish voters for the authorities to send Putin a formal invitation in a year when presidential and parliamentary elections will take place.

The source said most countries, after receiving the note verbale, sought clarification from Poland and then decided to send high-level delegations. But it said Russian officials did not reply or seek clarification.

Poland's Foreign Ministry told Reuters it was not the organizer of the event but that no country was excluded from taking part.

Warsaw has lobbied fellow EU states for tougher sanctions on Russia and pressed for a bolder response from NATO, while many ordinary Poles view the Kremlin with increased suspicion.

In the Czech Republic, President Milos Zeman invited Putin and leaders of the other World War II allies to Holocaust commemorations in Prague and the town of Terezin, the site of a Nazi camp, on January 26-27.

Peskov told the AFP news agency that a decision on whether to attend the events in the Czech Republic, which are organized by the European Jewish Congress, had "not yet been taken."

The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic said Putin was not welcome because the regime he "embodies...doesn't respect international treaties, is aggressive abroad, and uses its power to occupy the territory of a neighboring state."

Zeman has been a critic of sanctions against Russia who has expressed sympathy with Moscow's position on Ukraine.

Russia on May 9 will host major celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Those invited include U.S. President Barack Obama and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, and AP