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Putin walks a fine line in Poland, avoiding apology

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MOSCOW – In eastern Europe history is politics and vice versa.

That's why everyone is carefully parsing the words of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Tuesday at a meeting of European leaders in Gdansk, Poland, to mark the 70th anniversary of the massive Nazi invasion of Poland that triggered World War II.

Standing beside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk at the memorial meeting Tuesday, Putin proclaimed that "Russia has always respected the bravery and heroism of the Polish people, soldiers, and officers, who stood up first against Nazism in 1939."

Mr. Putin's not-so-delicate problem is that he unrepentently represents Russia, the successor state of the USSR, which two weeks after the Nazi invasion followed through on a secret agreement with German dictator Adolf Hitler by invading and occupying eastern Poland.

The Russian attack was described Tuesday by Polish President Lech Kaczynski as "a stab in the back ... and this blow came from Bolshevik Russia in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact," the Soviet-German bargain whose secret protocols divided eastern Europe between the two dictatorships.

The Poles were hoping that Putin might apologize for that, and for the subsequent execution of 20,000 Polish military officers, whose burial site in Russia's Katyn Forest has only been officially acknowledged since the collapse of the USSR.

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