No one can set Russians and Georgians at loggerheads – Putin

RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskiy
It is impossible to break ties between Georgians and Russians, Premier Vladimir Putin said at the opening ceremony of a World War II memorial erected in Moscow to replace one demolished last year in Georgia.

"I am confident that no one can set Russians and Georgians against each other, embitter us andbreak ourtraditional human spiritual ties,” Putin said at the event, as cited by Interfax. “That means that good-neighborliness and equal, true partnership are the future of Russian-Georgian relations… That is what we sincerely aim for.” The prime minister added that "We greatly and unconditionally value Russian-Georgian friendship".

Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, former Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli and ex-parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze – who are now opposition members – as well as World War II veterans and public activists, were present at the event in the capital’s memorial park – Poklonnaya Hill.

The idea to build the memorial, named "We Fought Together Against Nazism”, in the Russian capital came shortly after the Glory Memorial was destroyed in the Georgian city of Kutaisi, on December 19, 2009. The official explanation given by the Georgian authorities was that the demolition was necessary to make way for a building that would house parliament when it is relocated from the capital Tbilisi.

A woman and her eight-year-old daughter were killed and several people injured as the massive monument was blown up in what was meant to be a controlled explosion.

The dismantling of the monument, just several months before the 65th anniversary of victory over the Nazis, sparked a public outcry across the former Soviet republics and in Georgia itself. Over 700,000 Georgians fought in World War II and about 300,000 laid down their lives for the victory over the invaders.

The Russian foreign ministry called the move a form of state-sponsored vandalism against the memory of the people. Vladimir Putin said the demolition of the Kutaisi monument was “one of the most monstrous examples of barbarism”. He called it an attempt to “erase the memory of a common past shared by peoples of the former Soviet Union, including its heroic pages”.

Putin’s proposal was welcomed by the ruling United Russia party and public organizations, including the Union of Georgians in Russia. In May this year, the premier and Georgian opposition members laid the memorial’s first stone.

The public was invited to choose from six projects and the one that the majority voted for was approved. The bronze monument is of two Soviet Soldiers – Georgian Meliton Kantaria and Russian Mikhail Yegorov – who hoisted a Soviet flag over the Reichstag in May 1945.

Side by side, Russians and Georgians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, Uzbekistanis and Kazakhs – the entire Soviet Union – fought against Nazi Germany to protect their fatherland and to free countries that were invaded by Hitler and his allies. It is a symbol of common effort and common victory.The wall in the background of the 14.5-meter monument reminds of the silhouette of the memorial destroyed in Georgia.

According to Putin, the monument is a tribute “to the memory of the immortal heroism of our ancestors, and also a testimony of our common will, our firm decision to protect the truth about heroes from cynicism, barbarianism, and lies and fight nationalism, xenophobia, and extremism together, no matter what attractive slogans are used to promote them".

Tbilisi, however, believes the opening of the monument is a provocation. Russia is a sovereign state and can decide what monuments to put up, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said on Monday, cites Trend news agency. However, in this particular case, “the grandiose opening of the memorial – is provocative”.

“It is an attempt to convince the public that Georgia allegedly did not appreciate the dead in World War II," she added.

The standoff between Moscow and Tbilisi began after the August 2008 war in the Caucasus which started when Georgia attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinval. Russia had to intervene to protect people in the republic, many of whom held Russian passports.So far the two sides have not made much progress in rebuilding relations. The current Georgian leadership and President Mikhail Saakashvili only seem to add fuel to the fire.

Their efforts “to escalate the anti-Russian hysteria and measures to restore its military potential with the help of leading Westerncountries do nothelpstabilize the situation in this region," said Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Secretary-General Nikolay Bordyuzha at an international conference in Moscow, according toInterfax.

Nino Burdzhanadze, leader of the opposition party Democratic Movement-United Georgia said that it was "one of the most important priorities for any Georgian politician to settle relations with Russia and to really protect Georgia's interests," quotes Civil.ge news website. "Through its irresponsible actions, including towards the North Caucasus, the Georgian government is putting the country in danger".

The opposition leader added that she is convinced that peace in the Caucasus is very important for her country and “one should be reckless to on the one hand speak about the need to improve relations with Russia and on the other hand be doing everything to irritate Russia over its most sensitive issue [North Caucasus]."