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Russia's parliament says Katyn massacre was a direct order of Stalin

After years of official denial, Russia's lower house of parliament has passed a statement laying the blame for the Katyn massacre of Polish officers during World War II on Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Joseph Stalin

The Soviet Union long denied having anything to do with Katyn

Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, voted on Friday to approve a declaration that the 1940 massacre of some 20,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest in western Russia was a direct order of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

"Materials that for many years have been kept in secret archives and have now been published not only show the extent of this terrible tragedy but show that the Katyn crime was carried out on the direct orders of Stalin and other Soviet leaders," the parliament's statement said.

During the Soviet era, propaganda blamed the killings on the Nazis. It wasn't until 1990, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the country's leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, admitted the Soviet role. Russian officials, however, had been reluctant to admit that the massacre was an order from Stalin or the Soviet leadership.

A changing tone

The text of the statement was strongly disputed by the Communist minority in parliament, many of whom still contend that Nazis were the perpetrators. Ultimately the statement was supported by all the other major Duma groups.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk(left) and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (right) at the site of the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski

The plane crash brought Russia and Poland together

"This declaration is, without exaggeration, of historic importance," the head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee; Konstantin Kosachev; was quoted as saying on the ruling party United Russia's website.

Russia's stance on the massacre had been a stumbling block to rapprochement between Warsaw and Moscow. Last spring, however, the two countries came together in grief after Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed in an airplane crash on his way to a memorial ceremony at Katyn.

Friday's statement may also be a part of efforts by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to definitively break with the country's Soviet past.

Author: Holly Fox (AFP, AP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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