I am grateful for this opportunity to address the French public directly on the eve of the 60th anniversary of Victory over Nazism.
Generations and the decades pass, but this historic date remains sacred for each nation, each country that holds the ideals of freedom and humanism dear. Dedication to these values brought our nations together in the joint fight against Nazism, against the ideology of violence, aggression and racial supremacy. Today, democracy and freedom, justice and humanism continue to unite us in the development of a safe and civilised world.
Nazism brought the world and Europe unprecedented tragedy. The most enlightened continent was confronted with the ultimate barbarity, aggression and the Holocaust, the planned extermination of millions of people along racial lines: Slavs, Jews, and Gypsies.
Nazism then, just like international terrorism today, was an enemy for human decency, and the most sacred of freedoms and values, above all the right to life. It did not conceal its goals for European nations and the entire world: slavery, assimilation, and ethnic cleansing. No agreements or truces were possible with this enemy. Like for many other nations, defeat for our nation would have meant a loss of national sovereignty, statehood and extermination.
The united nations had to emerge victorious from the fight and they did. For the first time in global history, nations and countries realized a common danger. In the final analysis, they joined forces to fight a global threat. This was a genuine victory of good over evil, faith over blind fanaticism. Victory came not only through the force of arms, but also through the force of spirit of many nations.
The war took the lives of millions of my countrymen, the majority of whom were peaceful civilians. The flames of war left no family in Russia untouched. My kin were no exception. Many of them remained in besieged Leningrad, and my father fought and was wounded.
Our nation fought for four long and hard years to secure Victory. On the way to Hitler’s bunker, our soldiers defeated 600 enemy divisions. Three quarters of the losses in World War II were on the Eastern Front. After freeing its own territory in 1944, the Soviet army crossed its border to liberate another eleven European countries from the Nazi scourge. One million of our soldiers laid down their lives for this.
The French nation also made a significant contribution to Victory. We remember the feats of the Free France, which fought to liberate their homeland in the fiercest of battles. We remember the heroes of the French Resistance. Their daring operations forced the Nazis to keep major military units in France, and prevented their redeployment to the Eastern Front. In 2004, I attended the 60th anniversary celebrations of Operation Overlord. I remember how much pain and blood it took to liberate France.
We value the objective understanding in France of the role the Soviet Union played in securing Victory, in liberating the world from the Nazi plague. I remember well how at a ceremony in Normandy President Jacques Chirac stressed the trials the heroic soldiers of the Red Army experienced on the Eastern Front, when opening the way to victory in the battles near Moscow, Kursk and Stalingrad and unswervingly forging their way ahead, they had created the conditions without which the Normandy landings would have been impossible.
The Russian nation, all the nations of the former Soviet Union, also have good memories of the French people who fought Nazism. The embodiment of the French contribution to Victory is General de Gaulle. On May 9, President Chirac and I will open a memorial in Moscow to this great son of France. I will also have the opportunity to welcome the French veterans who have been invited to Moscow, including pilots from the Normandie-Niemen squadron.
We remember our Allies, and the assistance they provided. The deliveries from the USA, Britain and other countries and the opening of the second front helped the Soviet army liberate its land from the invaders more rapidly.
The establishment of the Allied coalition, the coalition of United Nations, can by right be called the greatest political achievement of the 20th century. The pooling of their political, economic and military resources became one of the decisive factors of the aggressors’ defeat.
Our military cooperation with France was sealed in the December 1944 Treaty on Alliance and Reciprocal Assistance. Again, as General de Gaulle then said, it confirmed the historical truth of the need for a Franco-Russian alliance, which becomes obvious with every new turn in history.
Our fathers and grandfathers shared all the hardships of war; they also shared the joy of Victory in 1945. We share this joy even now. All the Allies and German anti-fascists won the Second World War. Russian prisoners of war who had managed to escape and Russian emigres fought the common enemy shoulder to shoulder with the French on French soil. There were wonderful people among them, such as French citizen Nikolai Vyrubov, the only Russian to have won all France’s highest military awards, and Yelizaveta Kuzmina-Karavayeva (Mother Maria) and others.
This is our common holiday. Victory Day belongs to us all; it is a global event. And it will be marked in Moscow, Paris, London, Warsaw and Berlin — everywhere where memories live . Memories of burning Smolensk and devastated Coventry, the destruction of Khatyn, Lidice, Oradour, and the horrors of Auschwitz and Babi Yar. This is why we shall bow our heads in tribute on May 9, sixty years after the war.
In the run-up to the 60th anniversary of Victory, politicians, diplomats, academics and journalists are again looking at the causes and landmarks of World War II. When we assess the events of those years, we must completely understand our common responsibility to the new generations. Therefore, it is not only important to ensure historical truth about the war, but also to understand its moral lessons for our times.
The starting-point for the events that led to World War II was the Nazis’ coming to power. While unleashing terror within the country, they simultaneously started preparations for an external aggression. This is when the idea of a collective security system emerged in Paris and Moscow. An important step on the way to this system was the Franco-Soviet Agreement of 1935.
Unfortunately, though, efforts to develop this idea, to draw up multilateral mechanisms to guarantee peace on the continent did not succeed. Far from every European then understood the scale and aggressiveness of the evil that anti-human Nazi ideology represented.
The illusory hopes and ambitions that they could sit on the fence and appease Hitler at the expense of other countries’ interests triumphed over common sense. In this sense, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in no way different to the idea of the Munich agreements. Both of them alienated objective allies in the fight against Nazism and evoked reciprocal mistrust and suspicion. Soviet leaders had the impression that Munich not only meant the division of Czechoslovakia, but also the isolation of the USSR, and pushed Hitler towards aggression in the east.
In 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR – the legislative body of the country – produced a clear legal and moral assessment of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Our Baltic neighbours know this well, but still want to see Russia “repent” somehow.
In this connection, I would like to stress: these sorts of claims are completely unfounded and are openly speculative. I would suggest that their aim is to attract attention in a bid to justify the ignoble, discriminatory policy the governments pursue towards a considerable part of their Russian-speaking population, and to cover the shame of collaborationism. Every normal person must be offended when monuments are erected to former SS men in these countries, and SS veterans hold parades there.
Without going into detail, I would say that the decisions of the international community, including at the Nuremberg Trials, categorically condemn any forms of collaboration with Nazism regardless of the time and place.
Russia has repeatedly stated that it wants to engage in constructive dialogue with its Baltic neighbours, to develop friendly ties in all areas. We are ready to wait and we hope that our partners, who became EU members recently, will develop their policies based on today’s realities rather than the complexes of the past.
An objective assessment of the Yalta agreements reached in 1945 is no less important if we want to understand history and the results of World War II.
I am firmly convinced that their main substance was that the Allied leaders sought to build a new international system that would not allow Nazism to re-emerge, but would protect the world from destructive global conflicts. The United Nations was set up for this very reason and the principles of collective security became part of the organisation and were embodied in the UN Charter.
Naturally, historians can argue today about how rational and just the decisions were at the end of the war. But they were collective decisions taken by the US president, the British prime minister and the Soviet leader. They were decisions dictated by objective circumstances of the times: the roots of Nazism had not yet been eradicated, Europe lay in ruins and the victors could not but share responsibility for its political and economic restoration.
The historical paradox is that the Yalta system emerged on the basis of the Allies’ agreements, but it became the starting point for new geopolitical rivalry and competition between the superpowers. At the same time, this system established a certain balance and rules of the game that allowed a new global conflict to be avoided. In the end, it provided an opportunity to move forward to the Helsinki Accords and detente.
During the Yalta negotiations, the Soviet Union firmly came out in favour of preserving Germany’s statehood and integrity. Soviet people fought Nazism, not the German nation for whom they felt no hatred. The temporary division of the German nation in two states was a result of the military-political and ideological differences of the Cold War.
The positive role that our country played in the peaceful unification of Germany is well known. And if in its time the historical reconciliation of France and Germany became one of the main conditions for Western European integration, then today the partnership pursued by Russia, Germany and France is a crucial positive factor in international life and European-wide dialogue.
I am firmly convinced that a single Greater Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals, and on to the Pacific Ocean, whose existence would be based on recognised democratic principles, is a unique chance for every nation on the continent, including for the Russian nation. Europeans – just as they did in the fight against Nazism – can wholly rely on Russia in realising this chance to secure a peaceful, prosperous and worthy future. We believe Russia’s efforts to develop integrationist ties with both EU countries and CIS states are a single process that should lead to a significant expansion of common, harmonious spaces of security, democracy, and business cooperation in this enormous region.
The Russian nation has always felt part of the large European family, and has shared common cultural, moral and spiritual values. On our historical path – sometimes falling behind our partners, other times overtaking them – we have been through the same stages of establishing democratic, legal and civil institutions. Therefore, the Russian nation’s democratic and European choice is entirely logical. This is a sovereign choice of a European nation that defeated Nazism and knows the price of freedom. In defeating Nazism, our people not only brought freedom to others, but also emerged from the ruins and bolstered a sense of internal worth. In this sense, the sources of democratic reforms of the 1990s that transformed our society and state can also be found in the victorious May of 1945.
And, finally, it would be wrong to forget that the reforms in the 1990s in Eastern Europe would have been impossible without the fundamental democratic reforms in the Soviet Union.
The UN has declared May 8 and 9 the Days of Remembrance and Reconciliation. The General Assembly will hold a session dedicated to these dates this May. In my view, this is another symbol that the time has come to ensure reconciliation once and for all between people who fought at either side of the frontline and to overcome distrust between nations. But the time has also come for all nations to unite to combat new challenges — terrorism and ideological doctrines based on racism and xenophobia.
These challenges today represent the main threat to the rights and freedoms of man, the stable development of states and nations. It is a threat to all these humane values and principles that humanity, after defeating Nazism, laid down in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The global community can only deal with these challenges if there is common trust, solidarity and cooperation. And Russia here again acts as a responsible and predictable partner that clearly honors its commitments.
The dramatic events of the 1930s and 1940s serve as a warning to all of us, a warning against repeating the mistakes of the past, against the illusions that evil can be bought off at the expense of a neighbour. And perhaps the main lesson is that nationalist slogans always lead to violence. Theories of racial and religious supremacy always lead to genocide and terror against innocent people. Weakness before an aggressor leads to global conflicts.
The new generations who do not know the horrors of the war against Nazism should have an internal immunity to totalitarianism and to propaganda inciting ethnic and religious hatred. History textbooks should be objective for that reason. They should inform our citizens about the indisputable truth about events in those years. They should install the principles of tolerance and respect for each other, encourage understanding of the need for humanity’s unity in the fight against common hardships and threats. In the final analysis, they should create an atmosphere of understanding that both large and small nations have equal rights, including the right to choose an independent path of development.
In conclusion, I would like to offer my warmest congratulations on Victory Day to all French people, and above all to veterans of the war. I wish you health, happiness and prosperity.