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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Polish President Will Visit Katyn

WARSAW -- Poland's president will this week make his first visit to Russia to honor the memory of thousands of Poles murdered by the Soviet secret police during World War II, but he does not plan to meet his counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

President Lech Kaczynski and Defense Minister Aleksander Szczyglo planned to visit a cemetery in the Katyn forest near Smolensk on Monday, the anniversary of the Red Army's invasion of Poland at the start of the war, presidential spokesman Marcin Rosolowski told Polish news agency PAP.

It will be Kaczynski's first visit to Russia since taking office nearly two years ago. Relations with the country remain tense due to bitterness over Polish suffering at Soviet hands during the war and under communism.

Lately, tensions have been stoked by Poland's support for hosting a U.S. anti-missile defense site, something Moscow says threatens its own security and could spark a new arms race.

During his visit, Kaczynski will be received by a representative of Putin, but the focus of the visit will be honoring the estimated 22,000 Poles murdered at Katyn.

The Soviet Union invaded Poland on Sept. 17, 1939, less than three weeks after Nazi Germany had invaded from the west.

In April of the following year, the Polish officers were taken prisoner and killed by a shot to the back of the head in the Katyn forest and in other places.

The Nazis discovered the mass graves during their march on Moscow in the fall of 1941, but Soviet propaganda blamed the deaths on Hitler and punished anyone speaking the truth with harsh prison terms.

In 1990, Moscow admitted that Stalin's secret police were responsible.

Kaczynski's visit will come only days before the release of a movie about the massacre by the Oscar-winning Polish director Andrzej Wajda.

Poland's relations with Russia have been difficult since the Soviet collapse and got even worse after Kaczynski and his twin brother, Jaroslaw, the prime minister, came to power.

AP, Reuters