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Poland, Russia again in war of words over World War II

German troops parade through Warsaw, Poland, in September of 1939. (Public Domain)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A war of words has intensified between Poland and Russia over who is to blame for starting World War II, with each accusing the other of distorting history.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said late on December 21 that “we have greeted with concern and disbelief the statements by representatives of the Russian Federation, including President Vladimir Putin, on the genesis and the course of World War II, which misrepresent the events.”

Warsaw accused Moscow of “renewing Stalinist propaganda” and “wasting” reconciliation efforts that had been started by former leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.

Russian state-run TASS news agency on December 22 quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying it was Warsaw that had “undermined” relations with its “aggressive rhetoric and demolishing of monuments to fighters of fascism.”

Moscow also accused Poland of being the main driver behind the European Union’s move to slap sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict, which were this month extended by Brussels for another six months.

Russia in 2014 seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and has backed separatists fighting the Kyiv government in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Tensions between Moscow and Warsaw were raised again last week when Putin blamed the Western powers and Poland for World War II, pointing to various treaties signed with Nazi Germany before the conflict began in 1939.

In September, Putin slammed a resolution adopted by the European Union that stated the 1939 nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany “paved the way for the outbreak of World War II.”

The EU resolution said the pact set out to divide Europe “between the two totalitarian regimes” of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

The world this year marked the 80th anniversary of the accord — known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact — in which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to divide up Central and Eastern Europe.

The Polish Foreign Ministry in its statement spoke of the suffering of Poles and Poland and the “hostile” Soviet actions both before and during World War II. It put the number of Polish victims of Soviet repression at 566,000.

Many historians consider Nazi-occupied Poland to be one of the major victims of World War II, with an estimated 6 million people killed, mostly civilians, representing some 17 percent of the entire prewar population.

While the exact figures are debated, the Soviet Union suffered an estimated 20 million war deaths, around half of them civilians, representing some 11 percent of the population.

Poland, formerly a Warsaw Pact member under Soviet domination during the Cold War, is now a member of the EU and NATO. It has formed close ties with the United States and often called on its Western allies to guard against “appeasing” Moscow.

Poland, its Baltic allies, Ukraine, and the United States, have vehemently opposed the Nord Stream 2 project to supply Russian gas to Europe.

U.S. President Donald Trump last week signed a sanctions bill directed toward companies working on the project, which some in the West say will increase Europe’s dependence on Russia for its energy supplies.