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Historian blames Poland for WWII

Russia's role recast in research paper

By Mike Eckel
Associated Press / June 5, 2009
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MOSCOW - As the Kremlin presses a campaign to recast Russia's 20th-century history in a more favorable light, a research paper published yesterday on the Defense Ministry's website blamed Poland for starting World War II.

The unorthodox reading of history appears to be the latest effort by Russian historians to defend the Soviet Union and its leaders, especially their role in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War. Poland condemned the research paper.

Russia has rejected claims that a Stalin-era famine in Ukraine amounted to genocide, and Russia's Supreme Court recently turned down an appeal to reopen an investigation into the massacre by Soviet secret police of Polish military officers and intellectuals in Russia's Katyn forest during World War II.

The generally accepted view is that Poland was a victim rather than the aggressor in the conflict, and that Adolf Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland marked the start of the war.

Many Western historians believe Hitler was encouraged to invade by the treaty of nonaggression signed by Moscow and Berlin, called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which secretly divided eastern and western Europe into spheres of influence.

Hitler's pact with the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was signed on Aug. 24, 1939. Germany invaded Poland Sept. 1.

Blaming Poland would deny Russia played a role in starting the war by sealing the secret accord.

The research paper posted on Russia's Defense Ministry website is not an official government statement. But the author is listed as Colonel Sergei Kovalyov, director of the scientific-research department of military history, part of the Institute of Military History of the Ministry of Defense.

Ministry spokesman Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky told the Interfax news agency that analytical articles posted on the ministry's website do not necessarily reflect the ministry's official position.

The paper, titled "Fictions and Falsifications in Evaluating the USSR's Role On the Eve of World War II," recounts how in the run-up to Germany's invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Hitler demanded that Poland turn over control of the city of Danzig as well as a land corridor between Germany and the territory now known as Kaliningrad.

"Everyone who has studied the history of World War II without bias knows that the war began because of Poland's refusal to satisfy Germany's claims," he writes.

Kovalyov called the demands "quite reasonable."

He observed: "The overwhelming majority of residents of Danzig, cut off from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, were Germans who sincerely wished for reunification with their historical homeland."

Kovalyov, who works in St. Petersburg, could not be immediately located for comment.

Arseny Roginsky, a historian with the rights group Memorial, said Kovalyov was entitled to his opinion "and he shouldn't be thrown in prison for that."

"But if this indeed reflects the position of the government - in as much that it appeared on the Web site of the Ministry of Defense - then this is indeed dangerous and shameful," he said.

Poland contacted the Russian ambassador in Warsaw for an explanation.

"This sort of exotic interpretation of historical facts appears in various marginal Russian language periodicals from time to time," Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said. "For obvious reasons we don't react. This time, however, we asked the Russian ambassador in Warsaw for an explanation."