Putin lauds Soviet army at Moscow's Auschwitz ceremony28 january 2015, 13:39
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday slammed what he called attempts to rewrite history and lauded the Red Army at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, AFP reports.
Putin is conspicuously staying away from the main events in Poland, his absence highlighting ever-deepening divisions with the West over the war in Ukraine.
Speaking at a Jewish museum in Moscow, he said Nazi Germany's crimes including the Holocaust could be neither forgiven nor forgotten.
"Any attempts to hush up these events, distort, re-write history are unacceptable and immoral," said Putin.
In the run-up to the ceremony Poland angered Moscow when its foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, said it was Ukrainian soldiers -- rather than the Soviet Red Army -- who liberated the death camp on January 27, 1945.
Moscow blasted Warsaw for twisting history for political ends.
Putin has repeatedly condemned the West for what he calls attempts to belittle the Soviet army's role in the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 and glorify Nazi collaborators in eastern Europe and ex-Soviet republics such as Ukraine.
"We bow our heads before the feat of the soldiers and officers of the Red Army who defeated Nazism and stopped the horrific machine of extermination," Putin said at the ceremony.
"A great liberating mission has become a matter of honour for our entire people."
While stressing that people of many nationalities helped crush Nazi Germany, Putin pointed out that Russians accounted for 70 percent of Soviet army soldiers.
At the ceremony, Putin also drew parallels with the current Ukraine crisis which has sent Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows and seen Brussels and Washington slap several rounds of sanctions against Russia.
"We all know how dangerous and destructive are double standards, indifference to and disregard for another man's fate as is the case with the current tragedy in eastern Ukraine," the Kremlin strongman said at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.
He also slammed followers of Ukraine's Stepan Bandera and other "Hitler accomplices" who he stressed helped exterminate Jews in a number of Ukrainian cities including Lviv, Odessa and Kiev.
Bandera was the hugely controversial anti-Soviet wartime leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which is reviled in Moscow but glorified in western Ukraine.
The UPA fought but also collaborated with occupying Nazi forces and some members joined a special division of the SS.
Putin's conspicuous absence
Putin's absence at the main ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is now a museum, raised eyebrows at home.
In 2005, Putin travelled to Poland to participate in a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, one of the most haunting symbols of the horrors of Nazism.
Russian officials said earlier that Putin had received no formal invitation to fly to Poland.
Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said ahead of Tuesday's events the fact that Poland had not extended a formal invitation to Putin was perceived as an affront at the Kremlin.
"Ten years ago he was not simply an equal participant there -- he was the main star," he said on radio, referring to the ceremony in Poland.
Russian national television, reporting from the ceremony in Poland, said survivors were "very upset" over Putin's absence.
At the Moscow museum, where Putin lighted one of six memorial candles in the company of chief rabbi Berel Lazar, survivors and war veterans also pointed to the crucial role of the Soviet army.
More than one million people -- mainly European Jews -- perished in the death camp which was located in then-occupied southern Polish town of Oswiecim.