Russia Says Katyn Executions Not Genocide

Russia denied on Friday that the 1940 execution of 15,000 Polish prisoners of war by Soviet secret police was genocide, dismaying Poland's chief war crimes investigator and chilling already frosty bilateral relations.

Poland has long pushed for Moscow to bring to account the perpetrators of the Katyn massacre, with victims' families and prosecutors calling for the killings to be treated as genocide.

A conclusion of genocide could have been a first step towards prosecutions. Russian investigators closed their case last year without pressing any charges.

"The version of genocide was examined, and it is my firm conviction that there is absolutely no basis to talk about this in judicial terms," Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov told a news conference.

"There is not, and was not, genocide committed against the Polish people ... in this case," Savenkov was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as telling reporters.

Poland's top war crimes investigator reacted with dismay, saying Russia had put politics before justice.

"The Russians have decided a priori that Katyn wasn't genocide," said Leon Kieres, head of the Institute of National Remembrance. "The problem is that politics are getting into legal and historical issues.

The Katyn row further strains relations between Poland, a newly-assertive member of the European Union, and Russia, which in its former guise as the Soviet Union dominated Poland for five decades.

President Vladimir Putin chided Poland for backing Ukraine's "Orange Revolution", and this week Poland's Foreign Ministry called the killing of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov by Russian security forces a "crime".

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The mass shootings of interned Polish officers followed the 1939 partition of Poland by Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin at the start of World War Two.

Nazi Germany later reneged on the pact, invading the Soviet Union in 1941. Advancing forces found thousands of bodies in mass graves in the Katyn forest, near Smolensk, western Russia.

Soviet propagandists blamed the killings on the Germans, however, and only in 1990 did President Mikhail Gorbachev admit that the Soviet NKVD secret police had been responsible.

Russian investigations into the case dragged on for over a decade, ending inconclusively last year. Savenkov put the final Katyn death toll at 14,540.

Poland has decided to open its own probe, but says it has been hampered by delays in handing over case documents, two-thirds of which Russia has refused to declassify.

"The Russians are still causing a lot of problems in handing over the documents. We still haven't received them," said Kieres.

"We know that there were at least 2,000 people who commited this crime," he added, appealing to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski to intervene. "Now it is up to the politicians to take a step. To be tough on this issue."

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