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

Sergey Lavrov bows his head during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Alaska Siberia Lend-Lease Memorial in Fairbanks on Thursday. The Alaska Army National Guard honor guard stands at attention at right. (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 nations 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 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.

World War II collaboration
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shakes hands with Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Lend-Lease Monument in Fairbanks Alaska on May 11, 2017. (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.”

Mallott said the decision by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to send weapons, food and other supplies to its allies through Alaska was “transformational” to the territory.

Mallott added that he hoped to visit Russia later this year. No destination has been decided, but Mallott said he’d like to see Chukotka, an autonomous region in the Russian Far East with a large indigenous population.

Trump’s relationship with Russia

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 2016 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.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada’s foreign affairs minister looks to thaw relations with Russia at Arctic summit, Radio Canada International

Denmark/Greenland:   Q&A: Impact assessments in the Arctic – What Canada and Greenland can learn from each other, Eye on the Arctic

FinlandRussian and Finnish foreign ministers tackle “difficult issues” during meeting in Finland, Yle News

Iceland: The Arctic Council at 20 – View from Iceland, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway and Finland talk Arctic with China, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s foreign minister heads to Finland, then Alaska, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish foreign minister to meet Russian counterpart, Radio Sweden

United States: Fifth Russian aircraft interception off Alaska’s coast in a month, but experts not alarmed, Alaska Public Media

The Arctic Council chairmanship moves from the United States to Finland on May 11, 2017 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn along with EOTA media partners and contributors will be bringing you stories, interviews and analysis leading up to the handover.
Read our full coverage here!

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