Speech of Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, on Monument Hill, Moscow, August 1, 2014
A century ago on this day, Russia found itself obliged to enter World War I. Today, we are unveiling this monument to its heroes – Russian soldiers and officers. We are unveiling the monument here on Poklonnaya Gora, a site that preserves our grateful memory of Russian military glory and of those who at various moments in our country’s history have defended its independence, dignity and freedom.
The World War I soldier and his comrades in arms have their place of honour here too. It was the fate of many of them to later fight again on the frontlines in the Great Patriotic War. These experienced veterans inspired and brought out the best in the young soldiers and passed on to them the traditions of military comradeship and brotherhood and the traditions of military honour.
The Russian army’s great values and the heroic experience of the generation who fought in World War I played a big part in our people’s spiritual and moral upsurge at that moment. This was a generation that was fated to go through not just the difficult trials of the first global world war, but also the revolutionary upheaval and fratricidal civil war that split our country and changed its destiny.
But their feats and their sacrifices in Russia’s name were forgotten for long years. World War I itself, which the rest of the world calls the Great War, was erased from our country’s history and was labelled simply ‘imperialist’.
Today, we are restoring the historical truth about World War I and are discovering countless examples of personal courage and military skill, and the true patriotism of Russia’s soldiers and officers and the whole of Russian society. We are discovering the role Russia played in that difficult and epoch-changing time for the world, especially in the pre-war years. And what we see reflects very clearly the defining features of our country and our people.
Russia over many centuries supported strong and trusting relations between countries. This was the case on the eve of World War I too, when Russia did everything it could to convince Europe to find a peaceful and bloodless solution to the conflict between Serbia and Austro-Hungary. But Russia’s calls went unheeded and our country had no choice but to rise to the challenge, defend a brotherly Slavic people and protect our own country and people from the foreign threat.
Russia stayed true to its duties as an ally. The Russian offensives in Prussia and Galicia upset the adversary’s plans and made it possible for our allies to hold the front and defend Paris. The enemy was forced to turn its attention east, where Russian regiments, a large part of our forces, put up the fiercest possible struggle. Russia withstood the attack and was then able to launch an offensive. The Brusilov offensive became famous throughout the whole world.
But this victory was stolen from our country. It was stolen by those who called for the defeat of their homeland and army, who sowed division inside Russia and sought only power for themselves, betraying the national interests.
Today, we are restoring the links in time, making our history a single flow once more, in which World War I and its generals and soldiers have the place they deserve, and our hearts hold the sacred memory that they rightfully earned in those war years. As the saying goes, “better late than never.” Justice is finally triumphing in the books and textbooks, in the media and on cinema screens, and of course, in this monument that we are unveiling here today.
This must continue. There is a need for large-scale educational work and serious archival research. This will help us to learn more about the exact causes of the war and its events and identify the names of all who took part, so that present and future generations can learn about the fate of their own forebears and know their family’s history.
It is very important to properly immortalise the memory of our soldiers, and find and bring order to World War I burial sites, of which there are hundreds in Russia. They are the resting places of soldiers from many countries, all of whom are forever bound together now by this common tragedy.
This tragedy reminds us what happens when aggression, selfishness and the unbridled ambitions of national leaders and political establishments push common sense aside, so that instead of preserving the world’s most prosperous continent, Europe, they lead it towards danger. It is worth remembering this today.
World history gives us so many examples of what a terrible price we pay for refusing to listen to each other, or for trampling on others’ rights and freedoms and lawful interests in the name of our own interests and ambitions. It would be good if we could learn to open our eyes and to calculate at least a step ahead.
It is long since time that humanity learned and accepted the single great truth that violence breeds violence. The road to peace and prosperity is built out of goodwill, dialogue, and the memory of our past wars, the people who started them and why.
This monument to the heroes of World War I is not just a mark of tribute to their feats but is also a warning and reminder to us all of our world’s fragility. It is our duty to look after peace and remember that the most precious thing on earth is peaceful, calm and stable life.
We cherish the memory of World War I heroes. Glory to Russian arms and to our hero-soldier!