21 june 2011

While on a working visit to France, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes part in the ceremony of unveiling a monument to the soldiers and officers of the Russian Expeditionary Force who fought in World War I (1914-1918)

“We pay tribute to the memory of our men and officers who fought far from their homeland – both for Russia and for France.”

Before the unveiling of the monument, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Francois Fillon inspected the honour guard representing all branches of the French Armed Forces. After the monument was unveiled, the choir of Sretensky Monastery began singing the march of the Russian Expeditionary Force, "How Glorious is Our Lord."

Vladimir Putin and Francois Fillon then gave speeches.

The ceremony ended with the march, "Farewell of Slavianka", also performed by the choir. Later, Vladimir Putin and Francois Fillon talked to representatives of the Russian-French Dialogue association's youth group.

Vladimir Putin's address:

Mr Prime Minister, French friends, compatriots,

Today, we dedicate this monument to the Russian Expeditionary Force and pay tribute to the memory of our men and officers who fought far from their homeland – both for Russia and for France – performing their duty with courage and honour during WWI.

French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a hero and a legendary military leader of that war, often referred to as the Great War, wrote: "If France wasn't wiped off the map of Europe, we owe it first to the courage and staunchness of Russian soldiers." These sincere words are testimony to his deep respect for Russia, the Russian Army, and the Russian people. Indeed, there was a very critical moment for our allies in the First World War, particularly for France, when Russia did its utmost to come to their aid and prevent the capture of Paris.

Nearly 15 million Russians fought in WWI in Galicia, Eastern Prussia, Romania, the South Caucasus, the Balkans, and Persia.

In that chapter of military history, there is a special page reserved for the heroism of the 40,000 Russians who fought on the Western Front, 20,000 of them in France. Russian battalions fought in the most dangerous, deadly battles of that war, acting with fortitude in defence and with unmatched heroism during offensives, serving as shining examples of genuine courage.

We discussed this history with the ambassador yesterday, and he recalled that when revolutionary events began brewing in Russia, the Soldiers' Committees of the Russian Army convened to decide whether or not they would continue fighting the war.

This also happened right here, on the eve of the Battle of Verdun, when a Soldiers' Committee decided to stay and fight. A quarter of them were killed. When I think about that night, I, for one, am filled with pride for these Russian soldiers. They truly earned the respect of their French comrades-in-arms.

Unfortunately, many pages were deliberately lost from that chapter of history during the Soviet period, and others were re-written to suit a primitive and simplified ideological agenda. We are now gradually reclaiming our full historical heritage, including some of the lamentably forgotten events of WWI. We must never forget those lessons but rather take a respectful and responsible attitude to our common past, without undue idealisation or ridicule.

Dear friends, I would like to wholeheartedly thank everyone who has contributed to creating this wonderful monument to the Russian Expeditionary Force: first and foremost, the leaders of the French Republic, the president and the prime minister, as well as the Russian and French intellectuals who lent their support to this project. I owe my special thanks to the monument's designer, Russian artist Vladimir Surovtsev, who executed its construction with talent and passion, as well as to the Paris City Hall, which selected this unique location for the monument in direct proximity to the Pont Alexandre III, that symbol of Russian-French accord that Mr Fillon has spoken about today.

Once more, the French people have demonstrated their warmth and goodwill towards Russia and their respect for our common history. All I can say is that such actions are only undertaken by real friends and reliable partners.

There are, indeed, many things that unite us. There is a mutual attraction between us, despite our differences in cultural and national traditions. These bonds can be described as truly inseparable because we have accomplished and experienced so much together. Our countries were allies in two world wars. Today, Russia and France are working jointly for global peace and security and for the prosperity of Greater Europe. With this invaluable experience of partnership, we are certain to achieve success.

Thank you.