Thanks to Dmitri Trenin and thanks to the Carnegie Moscow Center for inviting us all here today to help open this important conference. For many years, Carnegie has helped, as you all know, both of our countries to better understand each other, and today, more than ever, that better understanding remains a critical goal.
I’m also happy to join you in marking the 70th anniversary of the historic meeting of American and Soviet forces at the town of Torgau on the Elbe River. That meeting had little military significance, but it had tremendous, lasting, symbolic importance. Its legacy has endured for seven decades.
Even though the political and economic systems of the United States and the Soviet Union were worlds apart during the Second World War, we were still able to cooperate in those years to achieve a greater good — the defeat of Nazi Germany. And, even though our relations later chilled during the Cold War, Moscow and Washington were able to avoid a direct conflict during a half-century of geopolitical tension.
As we face the tensions today, which Vladimir Petrovich described, on a number of issues, it’s really valuable, I think, to discuss the legacy of Torgau and the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. In America, we have not forgotten that legacy: In the White House’s Map Room today there is what is called a “war situation map” that was prepared for President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 3, 1945 — nine days before he died, and a mere three weeks before the events at Torgau.
It was a tragedy that FDR himself did not live to celebrate the Torgau meeting — or the ultimate Allied victory over the Nazis two weeks later. But V-E Day, as we call it, lives on in the memories of many of us whose fathers and grandfathers fought valiantly in World War II.
Both my father and my wife’s father fought on the European front. My dad was in the Army Air Force in North Africa and Italy. My wife Mariella’s dad served in France in the wake of the Allied D-Day invasion. They were part of what we Americans call “the Greatest Generation,” and their experiences in that war changed their lives and the lives of their families forever. One of my proudest possessions is my father’s Army hat from the Second World War, which is a key part of my hat collection which some of you may know about or have seen.
My wife Mariella and I honor the memory of our fathers and their bravery in that war. And, having served as ambassador in Russia and in three former Soviet states, I am acutely aware — and I have deep respect for — the tremendous sacrifices made by the Russian people and by others in this region during the Great Patriotic War.
Former Ambassador John Beyrle, who will be speaking to you shortly, knows as much as any American about the sacrifices of the Soviet people, because his father, Joseph, was one of the few soldiers — maybe the only soldier — who fought for both the American Army and the Red Army. He was a true hero for all of us.
And so were the soldiers from the U.S. Army 69th Infantry Division and the Soviet 58th Guards Rifle Division who met the Elbe in April of 1945 and enjoyed what some have come to call “the spirit of Torgau.” They shared souvenir dollars and rubles, compared rations, smoked cigarettes together, and toasted one another with “liberated” beer.
One of our Embassy’s distinguished former military attaches, retired General Greg Govan, recently wrote of the Torgau soldiers, and here I’m quoting: “They reached across a broken bridge over a dangerous river to clasp hands in joy at their survival and the success they had in a common cause. The spirit of Torgau is a reminder, for all of us, of mutual hopes in the midst of grim realities.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that today’s discussions reflect on that spirit of April and May 1945, on the history of our relations since Torgau, and on the prospects for, hopefully, better future cooperation in a variety of areas of mutual interest.
Thank you very much.