RUSSIAN president Vladimir Putin will not attend ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, the Kremlin said yesterday – a decision that reflects a chill in Russian ties with the West.
Mr Putin’s spokesman said on Ekho Moskvy radio: “There is no such trip on the president’s schedule.”
He added that Mr Putin had not received any invitation.
But the organisers of the ceremonies, the Auschwitz Museum and the International Auschwitz Council, said there had been no specific invitations but nations contributing funds to the site – including Russia – had been asked if they were going to be there.
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The situation is particularly awkward since the Nazi death camp was liberated by Soviet troops and a large number of around 1.5 million victims of Auschwitz, were Soviet citizens, including Jews and Russian prisoners of war.
Mr Putin did go to the ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, in 2005.
The apparent reason for his non-attendance this time lies in the Ukrainian crisis. Poland has been one of the harshest critics of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and Moscow’s support for a pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Amid the worst strain in Russia-West ties since the Cold War, Mr Putin has restricted his foreign travel. He received a chilly reception at the G20 summit in Australia in November, and left the venue early.
Auschwitz Museum director Piotr Cywinski said that invitations were not sent to any country and denied that the procedure was aimed at snubbing Mr Putin.
He said that the organisers had informed embassies of European Union nations and donor countries that the observances will be taking place on 27 January and asked them if they would be sending delegations and at what level.
French president François Hollande and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck are among state leaders and members of European royalty expected for the ceremonies, according to a preliminary list.
Russia is to be represented by ambassador Sergei Andreyev.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Embassy in Warsaw confirmed that it has been notified and is waiting for a decision from Moscow on who will attend.
Mr Cywinski said that organisers had decided to centre the observances on the ever-shrinking group of Auschwitz survivors, and there would be no speeches by politicians.
Around 300 survivors are expected at the ceremony, half of them from Poland.
Mr Putin’s spokesman acknowledged that the Kremlin was aware of the decision not to send specific invitations and avoided questions about the reasons behind the Russian leader’s decision not to attend, citing Mr Putin’s busy schedule.
He denied that the Russian president felt hurt by some western leaders cold-shouldering him.
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