Wednesday, October 6, 2021

OPINION:

Every October, Russia and the United States celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the Alaska–Siberia route (ALSIB). As one of the main supply channels under the Lend-Lease program during World War II, this air road symbolizes the partnership between our countries in the fight against Nazism and its allies, which unfolded more than seven decades ago.

The operation of ALSIB began on October 7, 1942. The starting point of the airway was Fairbanks (Alaska), where American colleagues handed over aircrafts to Soviet pilots. From there, the planes were ferried to airfields in the Far East and Siberia, then to Krasnoyarsk. After that, the machines continued on to the front by air or train. The overall length of the route was about 6,500 kilometers (more than 4,000 miles).


Although the airway was far from the frontline, pilots had to face grave risks. They flew over deserted areas and in hostile weather conditions. In total, almost 300 accidents occurred along the route, over 100 people died.

However, despite all the difficulties, ALSIB kept functioning properly. Approximately eight thousand aircrafts were delivered over this route to the USSR, which became a significant contribution to the Victory won by the Red Army over fascism in the sky. American Bell P-39 Airacobra fighters were particularly popular among our pilots. Many outstanding Soviet aces flew those machines on their combat missions, including three times Hero of the Soviet Union Alexander Pokryshkin.

The ALSIB project was used not only for delivering warplanes. The airway was many times exploited by high-ranking government officials of the two countries, including Foreign Minister of the USSR Vyacheslav Molotov, Soviet Ambassadors to the US Andrei Gromyko and Maxim Litvinov, Vice President of the United States Henry Wallace, Senator Wendell Willkie and others.

The ALSIB legacy has endured decades. In 1987, H.E. Tomas Watson, former US Ambassador to the USSR, who delivered aircrafts to the Soviet Union during World War II as a ferry pilot, made a commemorative trip along the route. In 1990, a group of Soviet veterans flew over the air road to Alaska to pay a reciprocal visit. In 2015, a bunch of Russian and American enthusiasts retraced the legendary route in a joint expedition to mark the 70th anniversary of the Victory – on two Douglas C-47 Skytrains assembled during the wartime. Another memorial flight is scheduled for 2022 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the opening of the ALSIB airway.

Numerous memorials in Russia and the United States remind us of the ALSIB air road. Among them is the monument honoring Soviet and American pilots unveiled in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2006. In 2020, it was one of the centers of celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Victory. On May 9, Chukotka and Alaska residents organized an international video bridge to pay tribute to the memory of the heroic deed of the those who participated in the ALSIB project.

It is a common duty for Russia and the United States to uphold the truth about World War II. We must protect the memory of the brotherhood in arms of our peoples whereby the Victory over the brown plague of fascism ­– the main evil of the twentieth century – was won. We are grateful to the US authorities and ordinary American citizens who take care of the Soviet military burials in Anchorage and Seattle and the memorials to the fallen during World War II. There is an effective cooperation between Russian-American Joint Commission on Prisoners of War and Missing in Action.

Today the experience of the partnership between Moscow and Washington in countering common threats and maintaining global stability continues to be relevant. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stressed in his address to the Congress in March 1945: “The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation…it must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.” Nowadays the world faces new challenges – terrorism, climate change, the global pandemic and proliferation of WMDs. The fact remains unchanged, though, that they can be addressed only through cooperation among all members of the international community, including Russia and the United States. Only via joint action can we ensure safety and prosperity on the planet – just like the greatest generation of victors, the Soviet and American veterans, who together defended peace for all of us.

• Anatoly Antonov is the Russian ambassador to the United States.


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