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25th May 2019

Putin to stay away from Holocaust memorials

  • The Red Army liberated the mostly-deserted Nazi camp 70 years ago (Photo: icrf)

Poland has denied any suggestion that Russia’s Vladimir Putin was not invited to a Holocaust memorial along with EU leaders for political reasons.

The Polish foreign ministry said the organisers - the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the International Auschwitz Council - followed normal procedure by sending notifications to 43 foreign embassies in Warsaw.

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“All the notifications about the ceremony were sent by the organisers to international partners - including Russia - in the same format”, it told EUobserver on Wednesday (14 January).

“The museum asked all countries to attend at the highest possible level. Other countries didn’t raise any objections to this form of notification and many of them have confirmed top-level attendance”.

A spokeswoman for the museum, Katarzyna Kolonko, added: “Of course we sent a notification to Russia.”

She noted that Moscow opted to send its ambassador to Poland, Sergey Andreev, instead.

The Auschwitz solemnities, marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp by the Red Army, will take place on 27 January.

Several EU countries have confirmed they will send leaders or heads of state.

The list includes French president Francois Hollande and German president Joachim Gauck. Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Poland itself are also sending top-level delegates.

The Auschwitz event takes place at the same time as Holocaust memorials in the Czech Republic, with VIPs expected to go the Czech solemnities before moving to Poland.

Czech authorities also invited Putin and EU leaders. But Putin isn't going to the Czech event either.

For his part, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agency Interfax on Tuesday: “If we understand it correctly, the general rule is that no special official invitations are being sent [by Polish authorities]”.

“There was also no personal invitation for Putin. He’s not going. But of course, we attach and we’ve always attached great importance to all memorial events, including the one that will take place in Poland, especially on the year of the 70th anniversary of victory”.

He later told Ekho Moskvy radio that Putin cannot go because he is too busy.

He also told the AFP news agency that a decision on the Czech solemnities “hasn’t been taken yet”.

But Polish sources told Reuters that Putin declined to go to Auschwitz because he felt slighted by the format of the notification and because the political “climate” isn’t right.

Meanwhile, Czech sources told EUobserver on Wednesday that “Putin won’t come to Prague on this occasion. That’s what Russia indicated … the Kremlin didn’t name any reason for not attending”.

Opinion was in any case divided on the suitability of his attendance.

The European Jewish Congress, a Brussels-based NGO, earlier told this website: “It's important to invite as many world leaders as possible, especially from nations which played a vital role in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps”.

But the Federation of Jewish Communities, a Czech-based group, said Putin should stay away because he “doesn't respect international treaties, [and] is aggressive abroad”.

Czech authorities also voiced concern about potential protocol “difficulties” after protesters threw eggs at the Czech Republic's pro-Russian president at a WWII event in November.

But some EU diplomats are equally worried Russian propaganda will portray Putin's absence as Western denigration of Russia's role in the war.

"We'll soon see what kind of game they play with this", an EU contact said.

The EU in March suspended its regular summits with Russia due to its annexation of Crimea.

Relations will again be tested on 9 May, when Putin plans to host EU leaders at a WWII parade in Moscow.

Latvia, the current EU presidency, is trying to forge a joint EU position on who should go. But it is highly unlikely that Germany would boycott the event.

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