Russian archivists and historians pressed the Kremlin`s case that the Stalin-era famine — which killed millions of people — was a common tragedy across Soviet farmlands, countering efforts by Ukraine`s pro-Western president to convince the world that Ukrainians were targeted for starvation.
"Not a single document exists that even indirectly shows that the strategy and tactics chosen for Ukraine differed from those applied to other regions, not to mention tactics or strategy with the aim of genocide," said Vladimir Kozlov, head of Russia`s Federal Archive Agency.
He said the famine was a direct result of Josef Stalin`s brutal collectivization campaign and the widespread confiscation of grain that was exported to secure equipment needed for the Soviet dictator`s frenetic industrialization drive.
Kozlov said the policy was class-based, targeting the kulaks — wealthy farmers seen as enemies of Communism — and was implemented virtually identically across the Soviet Union.
"There were no national or ethnic undertones," he told a news conference at the headquarters of state news agency RIA-Novosti.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko contends the famine was aimed at rooting out Ukrainian nationalism.
"Hunger was selected as a tool to subdue the Ukrainian people," he said at a November ceremony marking the anniversary of what Ukrainians consider the onset of the 1932-1933 famine.
Ukrainian lawmakers and a U.S. commission have labeled the famine an act of genocide, and Yushchenko has pushed for more governments and international bodies to follow suit. However, neither the United Nations nor the European Union has done so.
The heated dispute over the past comes amid a mounting tug-of-war over the future of Ukraine, whose European aspirations and tight historical ties to Russia make for a potentially volatile mix.
Yushchenko is pushing for NATO membership, a prospect Russia has said it will do its utmost to prevent.
Russian officials have cast the genocide claim as part of an effort by Yushchenko to discredit Russia in he eyes of Ukrainians and the West.
Months before his death last summer, the renowned writer and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn dismissed the genocide claim as a "fable" that could only fool the West.
On Wednesday, Alexander Dyukov, director of Historical Memory, a Moscow-based foundation that helped organize Wednesday`s news conference, said: "It is aimed, among other things, at inciting ethnic hate, at tearing Ukraine away from Russia."
Journalists were given an English-language DVD and a 500-page book reproducing documents — some of them recently declassified — that are to be included in a three-volume study of the famine in the U.S.S.R. from 1929 to 1934.
They include letters portraying the dire situation at the time in what is now Russia and in other ex-Soviet republics and orders — some with Stalin`s stamped signature in red ink — denying pleas for a letup in grain procurement quotas. Other documents suggest officials in Ukraine misled Moscow about the extent of hunger there.
The famine`s death toll is disputed, but it is widely believed that it killed between 3 million and 7 million people in Ukraine.
Yushchenko has said as many as 10 million Ukrainians died, while Russian historian Valery Tishkov said more conservative estimates of 3.5 million deaths in Ukraine and 3.5 million in Russia are likely about twice the true toll.
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