Elbe River Link Symbolizes Hope for Better US-Russian Relations

The historical linkage of American and Soviet troops in the German city of Torgau on April 25, 1945 is a perfect symbol of what can be achieved if two countries work together

Sun, Apr 24, 2016
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What can be achieved if two countries work together

This contact was made between patrols when a first lieutenant and three men of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon of the US division met forward elements of the Russian Guards division.

First Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue of the 3rd Battalion, 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division took his men in a boat across the Elbe to be greeted by Lt Col Alexander Gardiev, Commander of the 175th Rifle Regiment of the 58th Guards Division, 34th Corps.

By joining forces at Elbe, the American and Soviet troops successfully cut the German army in two. The American and Soviet military leaders paid tribute to their troops for their achievement. In Moscow, 324 guns fired 24 salvos in honor of the "victory of the freedom-loving peoples over Germany".

While all this happened more than 70 years ago, people in both countries around this date remember this linkage and meet in different places, including officials, to recall these events and honor the WWII veterans.

That historic meeting of comrades, united in the face of common threats, is the inspiration for the creation of a unique group called The Elbe Group. Its purpose is to maintain an open and continuous channel of communication on sensitive issues concerning US-Russian relations.

The members of the Elbe Group are senior retired military and intelligence flag officers, all of whom maintain strong connections with their respective governments. It is an unprecedented gathering of three- and four-star veterans from the Federal Security Service, Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, Ministry of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Department of Defense.  The Elbe Group has high-level visibility in both the US and Russian governments.  President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have all been personally briefed on the group by Russian members.  US members likewise send feedback directly to the highest levels in Department of State, DIA, CIA and Defense Department.

Last year the Group had a meeting in the original city or Torgau, and among the participants there were many high-ranking American and Russian military, including General of the Army Anatoliy  Kulikov, General of the Army Valentin Korabelnikov,  General Colonel Anatoliy Safonov, General John Abizaid, General Eugene Habiger, Lieutenant General Franklin Hagenbeck, and many other top Russian and American military commanders.

The head of this group is Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, former U.S. Defense Attaché at the US Embassy to Moscow and now serving as Director of Defense and Intelligence Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, which is a part of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

When the members of this group meet it is not only about reminiscing the old days but to discuss the major foreign-policy and security issues. They believe that with the current conditions of sharply rising tensions between the US and Russia, every effort should be made on both sides to prevent current and future generations of our countries from experiencing the horrors of war. They exchange opinions on such issues as strategic stability as well as countering nuclear, Islamic and cyber-terrorism.

They also believe that it is necessary to revive a dialogue between our countries, not only at the level of the U.S. Department of State and the Russian Foreign Ministry, but also between the State Duma and the Congress, the Presidential Administrations and the defense agencies and special services of the two countries.

I would add to this the important factor of people’s diplomacy, such as the initiative by the American University in Moscow, International Council of Russian Compatriots, Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots, and the Russian Club of Military Commanders to install a sculptural composition in Moscow and Washington dedicated to Elbe River linkage. The author of this composition is famous Russian Sculptor Alexander Burganov, whose works can be found not only in Russia but in other cities  around the world, including Washington, DC, where his statue of Pushkin is located on the campus of George Washington University.

The groundbreaking ceremony took place last April at the Burganov Museum Square in downtown Moscow near Arbat street, involving the planting a US-Russia friendship tree in the presence of many Russians and Americans, including WWII veterans as well as public and US Embassy officials.

On April 25, 2016 the Moscow part of the Elbe River composition will be installed, and we are extremely grateful to the Russian Embassy in Washington, The Russian Federation Foreign Ministry, Moscow City government, and the Elbe Group for supporting this initiative.

We are inviting all of you to attend this ceremony. For additional information, you can visit www.RussiaHouse.org/wrf.php, or write to: Forum@RussiaHouse.org  

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