The Russian government on Wednesday made public [press release] documents [materials, in Russian] relating to the 1940 Katyn Massacre [Britannica backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in which 20,000 Poles were killed by the USSR. While the documents were previously available to historians, political officials, and victims' families, this is the first time that copies of the original documents have been made available to the general public. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian] chose to make the documents public as relations between Russian and Poland have apparently improved following the April 10 plane crash [JURIST report] that killed Poland's president. Among the documents is a 1940 note signed by Joseph Stalin ordering the execution of Polish "nationalists and counter-revolutionaries."
The 1940 killings have long been a point of tension between the two governments, with Russia originally blaming the Nazis and only acknowledging responsibility in 1990. In February, the Polish government joined a class-action lawsuit [JURIST report] against Russia filed in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] by 13 Polish citizens who are relatives of the victims. In January 2009, victims' relatives were denied an appeal [JURIST report] to the Russian Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] to reopen investigations into the killings. The court reasoned that the Soviet-era criminal code to be applied to the killings places a 10-year statute of limitations on the proceedings.