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As Putin heads to Poland, WWII disputes on display

The Russian president is being pressed for an apology for the secret deal the Soviets made to carve up Poland with the Nazis.

By Correspondent / August 31, 2009

MOSCOW – World War II may be slipping into distant memory for most Americans and western Europeans, in part because they have all long since agreed on the conflict's basic narrative.

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But Russians and many eastern Europeans continue to furiously dispute the war's causes and results, almost as if it were still going on. That acrimony is likely to be on full display when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets other European leaders in Gdansk, Poland, on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland, which triggered a six-year war that claimed more than 50 million lives.

Many Poles, joined by leaders from Estonia, Latvia, and other post-Soviet states, are demanding that Moscow use the occasion to make a clean break with its Soviet past by apologizing for the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and its secret provisions under which Germany and the USSR colluded to divide eastern Europe between themselves.

A weekend survey conducted by the Warsaw newspaper Rzeczpospolita found that 76 percent of Poles want Mr. Putin to say he's sorry for the bargain between Adolf Hitler and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, under which Poland was ripped apart and shared between the two dictatorships. Thousands of Polish military officers were subsequently murdered by the Soviet secret police and buried in the Katyn forest, in western Russia, and as many as half a million Poles were exiled to Siberia.

"Apologize for attacking Poland, for the Katyn genocide, for murdering our heroes, for sending Poles to Siberia," a Monday editorial in another Warsaw paper, Super Express, urged Putin.

"You cannot deny these crimes," it said.

Following the war, the Soviet Union was permitted to keep the territories it had gained under its deal with the Nazis, including eastern Poland, the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as Moldova, and even part of Germany.

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