Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to join world leaders gathering at the site of the Auschwitz death camp this month because distrust caused by the conflict in Ukraine has cast a pall on arrangements to commemorate the Holocaust.
The Nazi camp, where about 1.5 million people were killed, most of them Jews, became a symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust and a war that ravaged Europe.
Seventy years later, conflict and political division are hampering preparations to mark the anniversary of its liberation.
Host country Poland, one of the most vociferous critics of Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, did not send a full diplomatic invitation to Putin, wary of the domestic political consequences of inviting the Russian leader, according to sources briefed on arrangements for the event on January 27.
Moscow, in turn, was upset by what it viewed as a slight by Warsaw and had therefore not made plans for the president to attend, said the sources, who declined to be named due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter.
Putin’s absence would stand out, especially as it was Soviet troops who liberated the camp in southern Poland in 1945, and many of the Jews killed in the Holocaust were Soviet citizens.
“The victory over Nazism depended on the collective engagement of many countries, the allies in the West but also the Soviet army,” a senior source in the European Jewish community, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
“For politics to interfere to exclude one country or another is a tragic shame to the memory of the Holocaust.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not confirm Putin would be going, but said the president’s decision would not be affected by any stance taken by Warsaw and that he did not feel slighted over the arrangements.
The row over Russian representation at the 70th anniversary event revolves around the subtleties of diplomatic protocol.
Formal invitations to foreign delegations were sent not by the Polish government but by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and International Auschwitz Council, the joint organisers.
According to a source involved in negotiations over the event, the Polish government sent foreign states what is called a note verbale about the Auschwitz events – a notification which falls short of being a formal invitation.
The source said Poland chose that format because it would have been unpopular among voters at home for the authorities to send Putin a formal invitation, in a year when presidential and parliamentary elections will take place.
Many ordinary Poles view the Kremlin with suspicion, opinion polls show, a sense heightened since Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea last year and pro-Moscow militias in eastern Ukraine rebelled against Kiev’s rule.