STRASBOURG, France (AP) — The European Union executive has come to the aid of Poland, which is involved in a bitter dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Poland's role in World War II.
EU Commissioner Vera Jourova told the parliament Wednesday that she “rejects any false claim" that paints Poland as a perpetrator instead of a victim of the 1939-1945 war. She said she “will not tolerate these attacks on Poland."
Putin has said on several occasions that Poland bears responsibility for the outbreak of the war. The remarks have deepened tensions between the two Slavic nations.
Jourova's comments came during a debate on “Distortion of European history and remembrance of the Second World War,” which ended 75 years ago this year.
Manfred Weber, the head of the EPP Christian Democrat group, said that people “cannot accept Putin’s attempt to rewrite history.”
The Polish prime minister has said Putin has been deliberately lying with his remarks, and argued that Putin is doing it to deflect from recent Russian political failures.
World War II began in 1939 when Poland was invaded first by Nazi Germany, then by the Soviet Union two weeks later. The dual occupation came days after the two totalitarian states signed a pact with a secret protocol to carve up Poland and the Baltic states. Some 6 million Polish citizens were killed in the war.
Putin has argued that collusion with Adolf Hitler by Western powers paved the way for World War II. He has heaped scorn on Poland, citing archival documents which he asserted show the Polish ambassador to Berlin praising Hitler’s plans to rid Europe of Jews.
“As the now famous quotation goes: everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," Jourova said. “Organized and targeted dissemination of distortions and disinformation is something we have to oppose and reject."
Putin has also lashed out against a resolution adopted by the European Parliament that says the Soviet Union partly bears responsibility for World War II alongside Germany because of the 1939 pact. The Russian leader has called that “sheer nonsense.”
Jourova said, however, that the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 “paved the way for World War II. The Nazi-Soviet alliance enabled the attack on Poland by Nazi Germany on 1 September 1939 and subsequently Soviet troops on 17 September."
She added that “these events marked the beginning of the Second World War. These are the facts."
She did say that once the Soviet Union turned against Nazi Germany, it was a major force in securing victory.
Vanessa Gera contributed from Warsaw.