Kremlin: WWII Pact Open Only to Historical Re-evaluation

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The notorious 1939 pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that divided up much of eastern Europe is open only to historical re-evaluation, a Kremlin spokesman said Saturday, suggesting that Moscow isn't prepared to support a legally binding renouncement of the agreement.

"At present, only the historical evaluation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is possible," Dmitry Peskov, deputy press secretary to President Vladimir Putin, told reporters. "There is no possibility of its juridical evaluation due to current realities."

He did not elaborate, but the statement appears to dampen expectations, created this week by Estonian President Arnold Ruutel, that the Kremlin was ready to disown the pact during the May celebrations in Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nazi defeat in World War II.

Speaking Thursday after a Kremlin meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ruutel told Estonian national broadcaster Eesti Raadio that Putin had told him that Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, supported annulling the pact "and considers this the right thing to do."

The Kremlin's statement after the meeting, however, didn't mention the pact, and Kremlin spokespeople initially refused to comment.

The 1939 nonaggression pact named for Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov was signed in secret and carved much of Eastern Europe up between the two countries, including the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which were placed under the Soviet sphere of control.

Soviet forces occupied the Baltic states in June 1940 but were driven out by the Germans a year later. The Red Army retook the Baltics in 1944 and the three countries were reincorporated back into the Soviet Union. They became independent in the Soviet breakup of 1991, and all three joined the European Union last year.

Peskov said that "from the Russian point of view, the best step in the development of Russian-Estonian relations would be the signing of a political declaration on the fundamentals of relations and a border delineation treaty" during the 60th anniversary celebrations.

Russia has tense relations with the Baltic nations and has ratified a border agreement only with Lithuania. The Baltic nations often accuse Russia of bullying and of failing to adequately acknowledge the Soviet occupation. They have asserted their ethnic and linguistic identities, upsetting their significant ethnic Russian minorities and prompting accusations of unfair treatment from Moscow.

Russia has invited the three leaders to Moscow on May 9 for the World War II anniversary celebrations, but only one, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, has agreed to participate and she has called on Russia to denounce the pact.

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