On 6 June, Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit France to attend the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allies’ landing at Normandy, a turning point in World War II, where US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders are also expected.
Both the Kremlin and the Elysée confirmed yesterday (6 May) that Putin’s visit, which was planned months ago, is due to take place in spite of the tensions generated by the Ukraine crisis.
The invitation has been maintained, said the Elysée, while the Kremlin confirmed that Putin “should indeed attend” the ceremonies.
To justify their decision, the services of the French president referred to the “historic context”.
“We have with Russia our dead and our heroes”, a source from the Elysée reportedly has said, adding that this gathering is “different from the G8 summit”.
Seeking to penalise Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russia has been excluded from the G8, and an upcoming summit of the eight leading industrialised countries in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in June has been cancelled. Instead, G7 leaders will meet in Brussels on 4-5 June [read more]. The members of the G7 are USA, France, Germany, UK, Italy, Canada and Japan.
Russia became the eighth member of the elite group of industrialised nations in 1998, after trying to gain full membership since its inception in 1975.
The Elysée source, quoted by MetroNews, also said that the meeting in Normandy would offer the possibility for French President François Hollande to send a “message of peace” to his Russian colleague, as a follow up to a letter from last week aimed at “finding an exit from the crisis”.
“It remains to be seen if Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, who will also be present, would accept appearing in the same photo with Vladimir Putin”, the MetroNews article concludes.
However, the Normandy meeting could be even tenser, as pro-Russia separatists in the so-called “Peoples’ Republic of Donetsk” plan an independence referendum on 11 May, mirroring the one which led to the annexation of Crimea.
Russia attaches a growing importance to the historic legacy of World War II. The former USSR bore the heaviest weight in the international effort to defeat Nazi Germany, and the present-day leadership of Russia wants to make sure that its contribution is remembered. On 5 May, Putin signed a decree introducing punishment of up to five years in prison or a fine of some 500,000 rubles (some $14,000) for anyone found guilty of denying facts established by the Nuremberg trials regarding the crimes of Axis powers.
The law applies to those who show public approval of Nazi crimes, especially if they attempt to spread such claims in the media.
The law also punishes those who knowingly disseminate “false information about the Soviet activities” during World War II.
The signing of the law comes as Russia is drawing comparisons between Ukrainian nationalists and Nazi war crimes, ahead of the 9 May anniversary of the end of World War II, according to RFE/RL.
According to the Voice of Russia, the new Ukraine authorities are spreading “false information about the USSR”. Ukraine’s acting president, Olexandr Turchinov, prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, and the leader of the Svoboda party, Oleh Tyahnibok, are named as responsible for the dissemination of “false information”.
Trident, the Right Sector and Svoboda are named as groups that brought those leaders to power, and reportedly “not only approve of the Nazi crimes against the Jews but also glorify them and attempt to paint them as deeds of heroism”.
The Voice of Russia holds the Right Sector responsible for the tragic building fire in Odessa of 2 May in which 40 pro-Russian activists died in a blaze at a building they had occupied after clashes with pro-Kyiv groups [read more].
The Russian media says “Maidan Defense Forces” and their Right Sector “brethren shot people who were trying to escape as they were burning them alive and screamed “Glory to Ukraine” every time someone jumped out of a window to escape the flames.”
Tensions on 9 May
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has warned of possible tensions in Ukraine on 9 May.
9 May is celebrated all post-Soviet countries the Day of Victory, marking the end of World War II, which cost the USSR 20 million dead. The capitulation of Nazi Germany took place on 8 May 1945, but it was announced in the USSR on 9 May.
The date coincides with “Europe Day”. In case rallies celebrating Europe Day and Victory Day are held in the same city, the OSCE sees the potential for confrontation as significant.