23 december 2009

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Chairman of the Supreme Council of the United Russia party Boris Gryzlov, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the leader of the Movement for Fair Georgia party, Zurab Noghaideli

“Seven hundred thousand Georgians fought in the Great Patriotic War, a third of whom perished. Our sacred duty is to pay them the respect they deserve and preserve the memory of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War. It does not matter which republic those who went off to war were from. They defended our common Fatherland and made a priceless contribution to the war against Nazism, our common enemy.”

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, thank you for responding so promptly to the initiative to restore the monument to Great Patriotic War heroes in Kutaisi.

To begin with, it's no secret that the relations between Russia and Georgia are at a low point, which is the unfortunate result of Tbilisi's current political agenda. I am certain that a different political agenda would have never led to last year's tragedy in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

However, this political agenda continues, unfortunately, with the demolition of the monument to Great Patriotic War heroes in Kutaisi.  This is sad testimony to the fact that this political agenda is contrary to the people's interests.

We are not going to have a political discussion today; this meeting has a different purpose. I know that we in this country have always held an absolutely unanimous consensus on everything related to the remembrance of the victims of World War II and support for war veterans.

It is United Russia that put forward this proposal [to restore the demolished monument], but I have confidence that other Russian political forces will also rally around this initiative. I wish the Georgian society would also be positive about it.

More to the point, this idea could lead to the restoration of a dialogue, at least at the level of public organisations and civil society, and possibly at the government level as well.

Merab Berdzenishvili, a People's Artist of the Soviet Union and the sculptor that created this monument, lives in Georgia. I am grateful to him for openly supporting the idea to rebuild his work in Moscow.

However, I understand that the Georgian government will be exerting pressure on him now. We are not going to place all the responsibility for the final result on him. We will work on our own, but at the same time hope for his help and support.

Seven hundred thousand Georgians fought in the Great Patriotic War, a third of whom perished. Our sacred duty is to pay them the respect they deserve and preserve the memory of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War.

It does not matter which republic those who went off to war were from. They defended our common Fatherland and made a priceless contribution to the war against Nazism, our common enemy.

Let us focus on practical issues now.

Boris Gryzlov: Today United Russia held consultations with the Movement for Fair Georgia Party. These consultations can be justly called consultations between parties. We invited Mayor Luzhkov to discuss a possible location where the monument could be rebuilt. Poklonnaya Hill is one of the options.

In addition, we would like to set up an endowment fund to raise the necessary resources. I agree with you that this is a people's issue, and not just an issue for political parties. All Russian political forces are likely to back this project. The restoration of the monument will be funded by the people.

There was a proposal to hold a so-called marathon, which would involve representatives of the Georgian and Russian artistic communities and would allow us to generate publicity to raise funds for rebuilding the monument.

Mr Noghaideli and I spoke today about preparing an agreement for cooperation between our two parties. We exchanged our founding documents, and I gave him the materials from our November 21 congress so that they could also familiarise themselves with our party's programme and speeches. In my opinion, we could develop a close rapport with this party.

Zurab Noghaideli: First of all, I would like to thank you, Mr Putin, for the initiative to rebuild the monument here in Moscow. Thank you very much. I took it to heart not only as a political figure, but also as a person. My uncle was killed in the war, along with 300,000 other Georgians. I believe that blowing up the monument on St Nicholas' Day is vandalism and represents an inhuman attitude towards the heroes of this war.

I am grateful to you, but in my view, our prime objective is to restore this monument in Kutaisi, where it belonged. We pledge to do so as soon as we come to power. We will also build a small chapel devoted to St Nicholas, since this tragedy occurred on St Nicholas Day.

I would like to reiterate my gratitude for this initiative and support. I don't think there are any people in the world who approve the demolition of this monument.

You see, we perceive it as a personal tragedy, and not just a political matter. Nevertheless, in my opinion Saakashvili is pursuing political goals and intends to sever the remaining ties between Russia and Georgia. I believe this issue is also worth discussing.

Vladimir Putin: I think you are absolutely correct in your analysis of recent developments.

I would like to say again that we realise that although relations between the Russian and Georgian governments are at an all time low, such that has never been in history, relations between the two peoples have a different character. The relations between Georgians and Russians have a solid foundation developed over centuries. We are connected by thousands of invisible ties, including mutual interests and a common history.

One of these ties is the remembrance of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War, who fought against our common enemy, Nazism. Some people want to extinguish this memory, but I am confident that this is beyond anyone's power. It just won't happen. But nevertheless, acting as a detached observer would also be improper.

Mr Luzhkov, what do you suggest?

Yury Luzhkov: I would also like to join this discussion since I have something to add.

Even at the worst times in the relations between our governments - and like you I am not talking about relations between ordinary people, between Georgians and Russians - we erected a monument in honour of Bagration (ethnic Georgian, descendant of the Georgian royal family), the hero of the War of 1812, on Kutuzovsky Prospekt. In my opinion, this is one of the most imposing places in Moscow.

Upon learning about this sacrilege, we decided to rebuild the Kutaisi monument in a place that is holy in our remembrance of the Great Patriotic War and the losses that our nations incurred in this war, the most appalling war in the history of humankind. All political forces and, of course and most importantly, ordinary people, Russians, uphold this decision. This monument will be installed on Poklonnaya Hill. And probably the only difference from the original will be a plaque stating "Built with the people's money".

Vladimir Putin: The arts school and artistic capabilities of representatives of the Georgian community in Moscow are well known. We have the President of the Union of Artists, Zurab Tsereteli, who heads the Academy of Arts and large artistic community. In this sense, there are people to rely upon. But I repeat that we would like Mr Berdzenishvili, a People's Artist of the Soviet Union, to participate in it either directly or indirectly.

Let me repeat: I am sure that he will find himself under pressure. If so, it will be another mistake by the Georgian government. Let us now move on to practical issues.