AP file
Dresden is seen in this undated photo after the Allied air raids on Feb. 13 and 14, 1945.
msnbc.com news services
updated 5/5/2005 2:59:56 PM ET 2005-05-05T18:59:56

Russian President Vladimir Putin told a German newspaper that Allied forces can’t be absolved of blame for horrors during World War II, and he noted in particular the massive bombing of Dresden in the final months.

Ahead of this weekend’s 60-year commemoration of Victory in Europe Day, Putin, in a joint interview with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, told Bild that the Western forces deserved to be criticized for attacking civilians.

“The Western allies didn’t abound with any special humanity,” the Russian leader said. “It’s incomprehensible to me to this day why Dresden was destroyed. There was no military reason for it.”

The wave of attacks over the city on the banks of the Elbe in mid-February, 1945, killed thousands of Germans in a deadly firestorm. Within weeks, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill distanced himself from the tactic of blanket-bombing German cities, and right-wing groups in Germany have argued the bombing was a war crime.

Putin, who was a KGB spy in East Germany and speaks fluent German, said the civilian population in Germany had suffered greatly during the war but said it was not the Soviets’ fault.

“The Soviet Union or the Red Army can’t be blamed for that,” Putin said in what a Bild editor said was one of the longest interviews Germany’s top-selling daily has ever published. “It wasn’t the Soviet Union that started the war.”

Denying that Moscow was to blame for Germany’s post-war division, Putin said Soviet leaders had worked hard “to preserve the integrity and unity of Germany” after the war. “But some of our allies unfortunately took the opposite position.”

Good neighbors
In an interview to appear in Bild’s Friday newspaper, Putin said that his and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s war experiences made Russians and Germans more appreciative of life, freedom and the importance of good relations with their neighbors.

Schroeder, who will go to Moscow next week for ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe, said it was a “miracle” that the former enemies had become such close allies. President Bush will also be attending the ceremony in Moscow on Monday.

More than 21 million Soviet citizens and 7 million Germans were killed in World War II.

“It’s a miracle in my eyes that such bitter enemies and war opponents are such close friends and partners living together as good neighbors today,” Schroeder said.

“The generation of my parents and grandparents would never be able to imagine that,” added Schroeder, who was born in 1944. “When you consider the horrors of the war, the German-Russian reconciliation is a political miracle.”

Liberation for both nations
Both Putin and Schroeder said the end of the war on May 8-9, 1945 was a day of liberation for Germany.

“My parents suffered very much and never forgot it,” said Putin of the 900-day Nazi blockade of Leningrad. His brother died during it and his father was wounded in combat nearby.

“But as strange as it may sound, there was never any hatred of Germans in my family,” added Putin, who was born in 1952. “My parents said it wasn’t the people or ordinary soldiers who were to blame but the regime that sent them into war.”

Exhausted by hunger and cold during the blockade of what is now St. Petersburg, Putin’s mother fainted and was thought to be dead. His father, wounded and in hospital, rescued her.

“A burial commando put her with a pile of corpses and was taking her to a cemetery,” Putin said. “She was still alive and my father had to pull her out of the pile of corpses. My mother only survived because he then gave her his place in hospital.”

Putin and Schroeder have become close friends in recent years, a bond intensified by their opposition to the Iraq war.

“I was deeply moved when I heard the chancellor’s father was killed on the Eastern front,” said Putin, a regular visitor to Schroeder’s home in Hanover. “That very much touched me emotionally. It dawned on me that this tragedy wasn’t far away.”

Schroeder said that although his generation bore no guilt for the war, all Germans carry a lasting responsibility for it.

© 2013 msnbc.com


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