Russia published for the first time on Wednesday documents relating to a Soviet massacre of thousands of Polish officers, in a gesture of solidarity with Warsaw following the death of its president.
President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and 94 officials were killed on April 10 in a plane crash in western Russia en route to a ceremony commemorating the Katyn massacre in 1940, when 22,000 Polish officers were shot by the Soviet secret police.
Russia's Federal Archive Service, or Rosarkhiv, published on its website (www.rusarchives.ru) scanned photos of several documents, including a March 5, 1940, note from NKVD head Lavrenty Beria -- signed by Stalin and three other members of the Soviet Politburo -- ordering the execution of Polish "nationalists and counter-revolutionaries".
The publication is seen as a further sign that long-running tensions between Russia and Poland are easing. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described the gesture as a "duty".
"Let people see it, let them know who made the decision to kill the Polish officers," Medvedev said during a trip to Copenhagen. "It's all there in the documents. All signatures are there, all the faces are known."
Medvedev added that he had ordered a number of Katyn documents still in Russia's hands to be passed to Warsaw.
The Kremlin has resisted Polish calls to brand the Katyn massacre "genocide."
Katyn is an enduring symbol for Poles of their suffering at Soviet hands in the 20th century. For decades, Moscow blamed the Nazis for the massacre and only acknowledged its responsibility in 1990, a year after the fall of communism in Poland.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk cautiously welcomed Medvedev's comments during a news conference in Warsaw, but added: "It is facts, not words, that are needed after the Smolensk crash ... I am wondering if Russia will use the opportunity this tragedy has brought us to improve relations."
The published documents and their contents have been known to historians, politicians and families of those killed since the early 1990s, but this is the first time most Russians have been able to see the scanned originals.
"Until now there still have been different perceptions, some doubts about who did it," Vladimir Tarasov, deputy head of Rosarkhiv, told Reuters. "We wanted to dispel the doubts. We wanted to dot the i's and cross the t's."
"Today's official publication is symbolic but important," said Yan Rachinski, one of the leaders of the human rights group Memorial which focuses on crimes of the Soviet period.
Medvedev braved the closure of European airspace caused by a volcanic ash cloud on April 18 to attend Kaczynski's funeral in Krakow and to tell Poles he hoped the tragedy could bring the two nations closer.
Last week, Russia's Supreme Court ordered the Moscow City Court to consider Memorial's appeal seeking declassification of a 2004 decision by military prosecutors to drop an investigation into the Katyn massacre [ID:nLDE63K1VQ].
"Let's hope that today's official publication on an official website is a step in that direction (of declassification)," Rachinski said.
There are 183 volumes of documents relating to the 1990-2004 investigation, and 116 of them are still closed. Rosarkhiv's Tarasov said no serious historian doubted the authenticity of the published documents.
But Russia's opposition Communist Party still rejects them as false and insists the murder was committed by the Nazis.
Last week, the party issued a letter to Medvedev asking for a new investigation.
"We're forced to state that the Polish anti-Russian mourning ceremonies at Katyn, supported by (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin, seem insulting to many citizens of our country, first of all to many World War Two veterans," the letter said.
ReutersLast Mod: 29 Nisan 2010, 09:21