Putin’s Almost Apology at Katyn

katyn040810.jpgIt is the closest we have seen Vladimir Putin come to talking about the crimes against humanity committed by Joseph Stalin’s regime during his historic summit at Katyn with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, but he still didn’t go all the way.  It is impressive that they have finally agreed to show Andrzej Wajda’s bloody historic drama on television, and members of the Russian government even described the film as “historically accurate.”  But in recognizing the atrocity, Putin left open some room for ambiguity.

I suspect that, like every so often, Putin was trying to send one message domestically to his nationalist base, while sending another different message to the Poles.  We’re still quite a long way away from the painful separation between the national conception of “the great Russian state” and more simply “a great Russia.”

From the Financial Times:

He needed to show continuity with Mikhail Gorbachev’s and Boris Yeltsin’s admission of Soviet responsibility. He succeeded – almost. To many Poles, he fell short by not apologising. He spoke instead of “shared memory and shame”, pointed to Russian as well as Polish victims of Stalinism, and called for an end to “always dividing countries into those who are right and those who are guilty”.

That is a barbagainst Polish russophobia. It is also a bit rich from a leader whoencourages nationalist nostalgia for Stalin and tolerates a surge ofhistorical revisionism in Russia, including on Katyn. Yet Mr Putin’sremarks should be welcomed if they signal an openness to finally talkhonestly about the Soviet Union’s crimes against its own people -undeniably as great as those suffered by Poles.

For more importanteven than giving Poland the apology it deserves, the greateststatesmanship Mr Putin can offer Poland, the west, and Russia itself isto tell his own people the truth.