Russia and Poland traded diplomatic barbs on Tuesday (3 February) over the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War Two, in a sign of Moscow’s worsening ties with Warsaw, the European Union’s leading critic of its role in Ukraine.
Relations between Moscow and the West have already plummeted over the Ukraine conflict, and Warsaw has advocated ratcheting up EU sanctions on Russia.
The latest spat centred around the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in Poland, and preparations to mark the anniversary of the end of the World War Two in May.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna angered Russia nearly two weeks ago, when he played up the role of Ukrainians, rather than Moscow’s Red Army, in liberating Auschwitz.
The Russian troops who liberated Auschwitz were from the Red Army’s “First Ukrainian Front”, a regimental group name which doesn’t mean that this army corps consisted of Ukrainians.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel distanced herself from this statement, and said that Auschwitz had been liberated by the Red Army.
Schetyna also questioned whether it was appropriate to mark the anniversary in Moscow.
Moscow traditionally celebrates Victory Day on 9 May, while Western countries mark this anniversary on 8 May. Schetyna invited EU leaders on 8 May to Gdansk (formerly known as Danzig), a Polish city on the Baltic coast, from which the Nazi invasion of Poland began in September 1939.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin responded that Schetyna was shaming himself and insulting millions of Russians killed in the battle to defeat Nazi Germany.
On Tuesday, Poland’s Foreign Ministry said it formally complained to the Russian embassy, handing a protest note to Russia’s chargé d’affaires in Warsaw.
In a separate decision on Tuesday, a court in St Petersburg ordered the eviction of the Polish consulate from its building in the city, TASS reported.
Russia takes pride in defeating Nazi Germany in Europe. Poles are less enthusiastic, as the Red Army brought nearly 50 years of subjugation to Moscow, until Poland overthrew communism in 1989.
The Moscow celebrations in May will offer a prominent rallying point for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That makes some EU states hesitant to attend at the highest level. Western nations have imposed sanctions on Russia, which they accuse of effectively driving, funding and arming the separatist rebellion in easterm Ukraine, as well as sending troops. Moscow denies those accusations.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rink?vi?s recently said that President Andris B?rzi?š had not yet made a decision whether to attend the celebrations in Moscow on 9 May, but that he hoped for a united EU position whether the Union leaders should go to the Russian capital or not.