Elbe Day anniversary spurs calls for revival of U.S.-Russia strategic engagement

On April 25, 1945, Soviet and American troops met and warmly embraced each other at the Elbe River, near Torgau in Germany, marking an important step toward the end of World War II in Europe.

While Elbe Day never became an official holiday in any country, in the years after 1945 the memory of this friendly encounter gained new significance in the context of the Cold War and deteriorating U.S.-Russia relations in the post-Soviet era.

On the occasion of the event’s 75th anniversary, U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin issued a rare joint statement on Saturday commemorating the link-up of U.S. and Soviet troops on their way to defeat Nazi Germany as an example of how both countries can “put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.”

More importantly, however, is that in tribute to the valor and courage of all those who fought together to defeat the Third Reich, the statement also emphasizes the need to jointly “confront the most important challenges of the 21st century.”

One of the first to applaud the Trump-Putin statement was Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, an Obama-sanctioned multi-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund that paid for a portion of the Russian coronavirus aid delivered to New York in March.

Earlier in his op-ed for CNBC, Dmitriev called for the restoration of U.S.-Russia bilateral ties, focusing efforts on three areas: jointly fighting the coronavirus pandemic, reducing the impact of the global economic recession and developing a platform for future cooperation in confronting terrorism, nuclear proliferation and climate change.

Prior to the release of the joint presidential statement, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov wrote an article in which he referred to the meeting on the Elbe as “a special date in Russian-American relations,” adding that it was held “in the spirit of friendship and fraternity.”

Antonov went on to state that “the traditions of partnership between our countries forged in battles, are a clear testimony that only by joining our efforts can we cope with the global challenges and threats humanity is facing today. Russia and the United States, being the two largest nuclear powers and members of the UN Security Council, have a special responsibility for maintaining international stability and security.”

A British journalist, writer, and broadcaster Neil Clark agrees. In an op-ed dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Elbe Day, Clark writes:

"The friendship between the two superpowers that existed then needs to be revived if the world's greatest problems are to be solved. Whether we’re talking about environmental issues, global poverty, terrorism, or public health – closer cooperation between the U.S. and Russia can only be a good thing for the ordinary citizens of the world."

On the eve of Elbe Day, similar sentiments were exchanged during a video conference call among Russian and American experts, including Col. Gen. Valery Baranov, former deputy commander of Russian Internal Troops Academy; Gen. Kevin Ryan, former defense attaché, U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Bruce Bean, professor emeritus Michigan State University; and dozens of other historians and scholars.

According to Edward Lozansky, the Russian-American scholar who organized the conference, the discussion emphasized the rising dangers and costs of an uncontrolled nuclear arms race and stressed the need for both bilateral negotiations between the United States and Russia and multilateral discussions among the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Problems stemming from the abandonment of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the approaching expiration of the New START treaty were also addressed.

“The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the global political infrastructure to erode,” stated a press release distributed by Lozansky.

Indeed, as the momentous 75th anniversary of the end of World War II quickly approaches, the world finds itself facing another great peril. Overcoming the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and transitioning into the Fourth Industrial Revolution while preserving peace and stability will require incredible leadership and unprecedented collaborative efforts from the world’s great powers.

A symbolic meeting that heralded the defeat of the Nazi regime 75 years ago continues to inspire a vision for Russian-American cooperation, and under the present circumstances, this cooperation may prove to be imperative.