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Polish Russian Relations - History

In 1717, surrounded by Russian troops, the Polish Sejm (Parliament) was forced to underline Poland's dependence upon Russia and legalize Russia's right to intervene in Polish affairs at will. Officially the Russian Tsar undertook to guarantee stability in Poland and the so-called "golden freedom"--the rights of Polish gentry. Since 1717, for 270 years, the Russian protectorate has been interrupted only for the 24 years between 1915 and 1939.

Poland, viewed in regard to its geographical situation and extent, as formerly constituted, formed a strong outwork against the Russian Colossus. Its territories extend to the eastward as far as the Dneiper, and westward as far as the Oder. Toward the north, they reached the Baltic and the government of Skoff, and their southern frontiers are the Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea. This vast region, composed of the present Kingdom of Poland, the Grand-duchy of Posen, of Samogitia, Lithuania, Livonia, White Russia and Black Russia, Volhynia, Podolia, Ukraine, and Gallicia, was inhabited by twenty-two millions of Poles of the same descent, the same manners and customs, and the same language and religion. According to its ancient limits, the kingdom of Poland was among the first in Europe with regard to population and geographical extent.

During the period 1938-1939, Central and East European countries refused the Franco-British plan of a security system which included Soviet Russia. Minister Beck "made it clear that he believed the Russian demand to enter Poland was only an attempt to obtain by diplomatic means what it had failed to accomplish by war in 1920."

On 28 September 1939, the USSR and Nazi Germany, allied since August, partitioned and then dissolved the Polish state. They then began implementing parallel policies of suppressing all resistance and destroying the Polish elite in their respective areas. The NKVD and the Gestapo coordinated their actions on many issues, including prisoner exchanges. At Brest Litovsk, Soviet and German commanders held a joint victory parade before German forces withdrew westward behind a new demarcation line. At the moment of the German invasion of Poland (1 September 1939) and the Soviet invasion (17 September 1939) the Polish government had the guarantees of the British and French authorities referring to the integrity of the borders of Poland. On June 22, 1941, the US Government stated that Polish borders were "immutable."

In November-December 1943 at the Teheran Conference, Stalin told FDR and Churchill that he wanted East Prussia and territory west to the Curzon Line. FDR apparently gives ambivalent responses, concentrating on efforts to keep Russia in the war, engage Russia in the Pacific War, then estimated to last at least another 2 years. Churchill later told Poles' London government that in interests of security, Curzon Line should be west Russian border, but that Poland will be ``compensated'' with part of eastern Germany. The three leaders discuss the make-up of the UN and the Security Council, having in mind the postwar order and how they would manage it.

Between 28 November and 1 December 1943, a meeting of the leaders of three great allied powers of the United States (Franklin Roosevelt), United Kingdom (Winston Churchill) and the USSR (Iosif Stalin) - took place in Teheran. The line of the Oder river was adopted as the outline of its western border, the eastern one was to base on the "Curzon's line", marked out in 1920. Poland was also to gain the Warmia, Mazury and Opole district, at the expense of Germany. In December 1943 FDR told Mikolajczyk, provisional Prime Minister of Polish government-in-exile in London, that US will not go to war with Russian to defend Poland interests. FDR apparently indicated that, in principle, he favored border alterations for Poland, with Russia moving frontier west to the Curzon Line.

One of the earliest -- and certainly the most infamous -- mass shootings of prisoners of war during World War II was a cold-blooded act of political murder. The victims were Polish officers, soldiers, and civilians captured by the Red Army after it invaded eastern Poland in September 1939. The NKVD created a Directorate of Prisoners of War which took custody of Polish prisoners from the Army and began organizing a network of reception centers and transfer camps and arranging rail transport to the western USSR. Once there, the Poles were placed in "special" (concentration) camps, where, from October to February, they were subjected to lengthy interrogations.

Stalin was anxious to turn his attention to Poland, which the Red Army would soon occupy and the NKVD would "pacify" using terror, deportations, and executions. By late February 1940, NKVD interrogations were completed. The Poles were encouraged to believe they would be released, but the interviews were in effect a selection process to determine who would live and who would die. On 5 March 1940, Stalin signed their death warrant--an NKVD order condemning 21,857 prisoners to "the supreme penalty: shooting." They had been condemned as "hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority."

The Katyn Forest massacre was a criminal act of historic proportions and enduring political implications. When Nazi occupation forces in April 1943 announced the discovery of several mass graves, propaganda minister Josef Goebbels hoped that international revulsion over the Soviet atrocity would drive a wedge into the Big Three coalition and buy Germany a breathing space, if not a victory, in its war against Russia. Moscow blamed the Germans, and for the rest of the war Washington and London officially accepted the Soviet countercharge [it was not in the US interest to embarrass an ally whose forces were still needed to defeat Japan].

At a Kremlin ceremony on 13 October 1990, Gorbachev handed the head of Poland's military government, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, a folder of documents that left no doubt about Soviet guilt. He did not, however, make a full and complete disclosure. Missing from the folder was the March 1940 NKVD execution order. Gorbachev laid all blame on Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, and his deputy.

In May 1995, officials from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus announced their intention to end an official probe into "NKVD crimes" committed there and at other sites. 21 But even that announcement revealed "new" information that had long been known in the West. Katyn is a wound that refuses to heal.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2017 18:44:24 ZULU