Russia’s foreign minister visits Lend-Lease monument in Fairbanks

By Jeannette Lee Falsey, Alaska Dispatch News - May 11, 2017
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Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, bows his head during a wreath laying ceremony at the Alaska Siberia Lendlease Memorial in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Thursday, May 11, 2017. The memorial honors the U.S. and Soviet pilots who ferried planes from the U.S. to Siberia during World War II. At right stands the Alaska Army National Guard honor guard. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, bows his head during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Alaska-Siberia Lend-Lease Memorial in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Thursday, May 11, 2017. The memorial honors the U.S. and Soviet pilots who ferried planes from the U.S. to Siberia during World War II. At right stands the Alaska Army National Guard honor guard. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

FAIRBANKS — Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited a monument to cooperation between the United States and the former Soviet Union during World War II, highlighting a brief period of amicable relations between the two countries at a time when ties to Russia are proving a political liability for the White House.

Lavrov’s visit occurred after the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council on Thursday and a day after he met with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the White House — a meeting Trump described as “very, very good.” Tillerson was also at the Arctic Council meeting, where he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Lavrov for a group photo.

The Russian delegation laid three wreaths at the Lend-Lease Monument in downtown Fairbanks. One was draped with a ribbon that said in Cyrillic script, “From the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation.”

Through the Lend-Lease program, the United States sent millions of dollars worth of aid and weapons, including warplanes, to its allies during World War II, the Soviet Union included. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin would not allow American pilots to cross the Bering Strait. Russian pilots would fly the planes to Siberia from Ladd Field, now Fort Wainwright, in Fairbanks.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, shakes hands with Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott after a wreath laying ceremony at the Griffin Park Alaska Siberia Lendlease Memorial in Fairbanks, Alaska on Thursday, May 11, 2017. The memorial honors the US and Soviet pilots who ferried planes from the US to Siberia during World War II. To the right of them stands Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, shakes hands with Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott after a wreath laying ceremony at the Lend-Lease Monument in Fairbanks Alaska on Thursday. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

In the wreath-laying ceremony, Lavrov slowly approached the monument and stood before it in silence for several moments as members of the state Russian media looked on. He was followed by Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Then, the Russian delegation and Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott laid red carnations on the monument’s base.

“Being here and not to visit this memorial would have been a shame,” Lavrov said in English. “We highly appreciate the way the Alaskans keep the memory of our fight against fascism during World War II alive.”

Russia has been a major preoccupation of the Trump administration. The president this week fired FBI director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia’s possible meddling in the presidential election to hurt Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Comey was also looking into other ties between Russia and members of Trump’s campaign.

During the depths of the Cold War, when the Soviets and Americans appeared to be at each others’ throats, Russians would cite the wartime cooperation against Hitler as a reason to hope for better relations.

Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, talks to the media after a wreath laying ceremony at the Alaska Siberia Lendlease Memorial in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Thursday, May 11, 2017. The memorial honors the U.S. and Soviet pilots who ferried planes from the U.S. to Siberia during World War II. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, talks to Russian media after a wreath laying ceremony at the Lend-Lease Monument in Fairbanks on Thursday. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)