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Kremlin Seethes Over Polish WWII Commemoration Plan

Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Vladimir Putin watch a military parade on Red Square on Victory Day in Moscow in 2011.
Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Vladimir Putin watch a military parade on Red Square on Victory Day in Moscow in 2011.

The Kremlin has lashed out at Warsaw over plans for a meeting in Poland marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host foreign guests for Victory Day celebrations on May 9, when Moscow marks what it depicts as the liberation of European nations by the Soviet Army.

But Polish President Bronislaw Komarowski said this week that the Nazi defeat "did not bring freedom to all the peoples of Europe," a reference to decades of Soviet dominance over Poland and many neighbors after the war.

Komarowski is inviting EU leaders to "reflect" on this at a meeting on May 8 on the Westerplatte peninsula in the Polish city of Gdansk, where the war began with a battle between Polish and invading German forces in 1939.

Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said on January 29 that the invitation was "designed to discourage a number of European states' leaders from coming to Moscow on May 9."

Few Western leaders are expected to stand in Red Square with Putin and watch a May 9 military parade amid severe tension over Ukraine, where NATO says separatists fighting government forces in a war that has killed more than 5,100 people are backed by Russian troops and weapons.

Only EU leaders are invited to the Gdansk event -- others, such as Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama, are not.

But Ivanov branded it as misguided nonetheless.

"How can you celebrate the victory in Gdansk? Indeed, World War II started there. But what does the victory have to do with it?" the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying.

The spat over anniversary celebrations is just the latest reflection of deep-seated bitterness over the past, particularly World War II -- which started after Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union divided up Poland in a secret deal -- and the postwar era of Polish confinement to the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact.

It cames after Russia rebuked Poland's foreign minister for suggesting that it was mostly Ukranian forces that liberated inmates of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1945.

Ivanov said such remarks are "aimed at securing a blatant rewrite of the results of World War II."

"Today it has become fashionable to say, 'Yes, it was the Red Army that liberated us' -- this being said through gritted teeth -- but that 'this did not bring us freeedom.'" Interfax quoted him as saying. "It is necessary to carefully investigate this message."

Putin made similiar remarks at a meeting with regional Russian leaders on January 29, saying preparations for Victory Day required them to "protect what is sacred to us" by combating what he called efforts to distort the past and belittle the Soviet contribution to the Allied victory.

"You know what absurd and even shameful declarations our opponents have resorted to for the sake of political ambotions, or the sake of containing Russia, in he end, and changing history," he said.

"We must, of course, counter this flow of impudent lies, falsifications, and distortions of historical facts."

Critics say Putin himself has frequently sought to rewrite history, citing what they say is downplaying of the crimes of the Stalin era and a flawed portrayal of Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in March, as "sacred" Russian land.

With reporting by Interfax

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