WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland is to send a note of protest to Russia after it removed a Polish flag from the Katyn cemetery, which commemorates Polish military officers killed by Soviet forces in 1940, the government said on Monday.
An estimated 22,000 officers and intellectuals were killed in Katyn, near Smolensk in western Russia, many of whom were trucked in from prison camps, shot in the head from behind and were pushed into mass graves.
After decades of blaming Nazi Germany for the Katyn massacre, the Soviet Union admitted in April 1990 that its forces were responsible, with the killings casting a shadow over relations between Russia and Poland.
The bodies of more than 4,000 Polish POWs are buried in the cemetery, which is run by Russian authorities.
On Friday, Smolensk Mayor Andrei Borisov posted a photo of two flag poles – one with a Russian flag and the other empty with a ladder leaning against it – indicating that the Polish flag had been removed.
“There can’t be Polish flags on Russian memorials! … I think the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation took the only correct decision – to remove the Polish flag. Katyn is a Russian memorial, it is Russian history,” Borisov said. wrote.
The move further strains relations between the two countries after Poland’s leading role in opposing the war in Ukraine.
“At the moment, a (diplomatic) note is being drafted, which will be submitted to the Foreign Ministry,” Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told Polish public radio on Monday.
“We will try to intervene politically, but… I don’t have excessive optimism about the actions of the Russian side. The Russian side is quite aggressive in foreign policy,” he said. added.
The Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
(Reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Alison Williams)