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Putin walks a fine line in Poland, avoiding apology

On the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Russian prime minister praised the "heroism" of the Polish. But he did not apologize for the subsequent Russian invasion and execution of 20,000 Polish military officers.

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"This order lasted until 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, so it's not ancient history at all," says Pavel Felgenhauer, a security expert with the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta. "These issues are very real and important to eastern Europeans, and that's why they continue to worry about Moscow's attitude.

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Russian experts say Putin probably went as far toward meeting Polish demands as any Kremlin leader could, given that Russia is currently in the midst of an intense domestic battle over the nation's past.

"I think Putin was conciliatory," says Roy Medvedev, one of Russia's leading historians on the Soviet period. "It was a step forward, considering that we haven't had any high-level contacts with Poland for a dozen years."

Mr. Tusk appeared somewhat mollified. "Our meeting [with Putin] showed from the first minute that we are making another step toward strengthening confidence in the past so that we can build our future on it," he said. That future involves better access to Russian gas, on which Poland is dependent for about half its current usage, he made clear.

"Gas must not be used for political gains, but for business interests," Tusk said, adding that he hoped for "the rapid signature" of a contract to construct a new Russian gas pipeline through Poland. Russia's neighbors have repeatedly accused it of using gas supplies as a political weapon.

Whatever progress Putin may have achieved on the historical front in Gdansk Tuesday might have been undone by the publication on the same day of a book of "secret documents" released by Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service.

The volume, entitled "Secrets of Polish Policy 1935-1945," purports to document plans by Poland to join Nazi Germany in an invasion of the USSR in the years before World War II and also details Poland's minor but actual role in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia following the Munich accord in 1938.

"This is all part of an old Russian game," says Mr. Felgenhauer. "Putin wants to portray himself to the West as a liberal who's surrounded by wolves back in Moscow, but it's really business as usual."

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