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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Polish Anger at 1939 Invasion Lingers

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday protested a Russian statement denying that the 1939 Soviet invasion of eastern Poland was an "act of aggression."

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement Tuesday saying the former Soviet army was merely seizing territory as a buffer against any Nazi advance from occupied Poland threatened to further strain Polish-Russian relations.

Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said the 60th anniversary of the invasion Friday "is not the best moment to revive arguments that we know from the language of Stalinist propaganda."

Acting on a secret agreement with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union seized eastern Polish provinces 17 days after Hitler invaded Poland from the west and the north, starting World War II.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement Tuesday said Soviet actions 60 years ago "were dictated not so much by the desire to seize others' territories as by the need to protect the security of the country."

Western historians have long portrayed the Soviet Union's invasion a betrayal of Poland as it resisted the Nazi advance; the so-called Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact preceding the invasion is generally acknowledged to have called for the partition of Poland between the Nazis and Soviets.

After seizing the territory, the Soviets sent some 1.5 million Poles to labor camps. At least 15,000 Polish officers were killed by secret police.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski plans an unofficial visit on the anniversary Friday to the Belarussian village of Katyn, where thousands of Polish officers executed under Stalin's regime are buried. Moscow only officially acknowledged responsibility in 1990 for the Katyn massacre, which followed Poland's partition.

Kwasniewski's top aide, Marek Siwiec, called the Russian statement about the Soviet invasion a "big mistake" and indicated Russian diplomacy acted in a "somewhat schizophrenic" way.

"We want to seek reconciliation on on e hand, to build a better future, and on the other, we cannot afford acknowledging elementary truth," Siwiec said in a radio interview.

Dobrowolski said in a telephone interview that Poland and Russia needed a broad and honest debate about "the common fate of their nations under Stalin's regime."

He said the two countries recently began discussions about compensation to Poles sent to forced labor or persecuted by the Soviet regime, and thus, Moscow's statement could be seen as an effort to reject compensation claims.

Polish-Russian relations have already been strained by Poland's joining NATO and stricter border regulations introduced by this former Warsaw Pact country as part of its campaign to qualify for European Union membership.