Russia blames Stalin for Katyn tragedy

Fri Nov 26, 2010 1:13pm EST
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By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Friday directly blamed Josef Stalin for the 1940 massacre of 22,000 Polish officers at Katyn in a rare condemnation of the dictator, in a vote widely seen as an attempt by Moscow to improve ties with Poland.

Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted in favor of a resolution saying documents in secret archives showed Stalin directly ordered the massacre, it said on its site The resolution was backed by 342 of 450 members.

"Material, kept for many years in secret archives ... bears witness to the fact that the Katyn crime was carried out under Stalin's direct orders," the resolution said.

"The State Duma deputies extend a hand of friendship to the Polish people and hope this will mark a new era of relations between our countries," it added.

Russian rights campaigners have been alarmed by what they see as an attempt by some officials -- especially during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's years as president from 2000-08 -- to play down Stalinist atrocities by focusing on his achievements.

While the original 1940 execution order signed by Stalin was declassified by Russia's first President Boris Yeltsin, Friday's resolution is one of the strongest official censures of the wartime leader since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.

"This is really a question of conscience, after so many years of negation and silence, to make a declaration that would close this chapter of our history," said Konstatin Kosachyov, head of the Duma committee on foreign affairs.

Poland welcomed the decision, which comes after the April plane crash of its President Lech Kaczynski in Russia.   Continued...

<p>A statue of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin is seen through a broken window in Gori 80 km (50 miles) from Tbilisi August 25, 2008. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili</p>