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Russia's foreign minister visits Lend-Lease Monument in Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS — Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited a monument to cooperation between the United States and the former Soviet Union during World War II, highlighting a brief period of amicable relations between the two nations at a time when ties to Russia are proving a political liability for the White House.

Lavrov's visit occurred after the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council on Thursday and a day after he met with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the White House — a meeting Trump described as "very, very good." Tillerson was also at the council meeting, where he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Lavrov for a group photo.

The Russian delegation laid a wreath at the Lend-Lease Monument in downtown Fairbanks, draped with a ribbon that said in Cyrillic script, "From the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation."

Sergey Lavrov bows his head during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Alaska Siberia Lend-Lease Memorial in Fairbanks on Thursday. The Alaska Army National Guard honor guard stands at attention at right. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

The Russian wreath joined two others from the 75th anniversary celebration of the Lend-Lease program on May 8 that was attended by delegations from Anchorage, Russia, Seattle, Fairbanks and other places.

Through the Lend-Lease program, the United States sent millions of dollars' worth of aid and weapons, including warplanes, to its allies during World War II, the Soviet Union included. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin would not allow American pilots to cross the Bering Strait. Russian pilots would fly the planes to Siberia from Ladd Field, now Fort Wainwright, in Fairbanks.

In the wreath-laying ceremony, Lavrov slowly approached the monument and stood before it in silence for several moments as members of the state Russian media looked on. He was followed by Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States. Then, the Russian delegation and Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott laid red carnations on the monument's base.

"Being here and not to visit this memorial would have been a shame," Lavrov said in English. "We highly appreciate the way the Alaskans keep the memory of our fight against fascism during World War II alive."

Mallott said the decision by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to send weapons, food and other supplies to its allies through Alaska was "transformational" to the territory.

Mallott added that he hoped to visit Russia later this year. No destination has been decided, but Mallott said he'd like to see Chukotka, an autonomous region in the Russian Far East with a large indigenous population.

Russia has been a major preoccupation of the Trump administration. The president this week fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia's possible meddling in the 2016 presidential election to hurt Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Comey was also looking into other ties between Russia and members of Trump's campaign.

During the depths of the Cold War, when the Soviets and Americans appeared to be at each others' throats, Russians would cite the wartime cooperation against Hitler as a reason to hope for better relations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shakes hands with Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Lend-Lease Monument in Fairbanks Alaska on Thursday. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that the Russian delegation placed one wreath, not three, at the monument. The two other wreaths had been placed earlier during the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Lend-Lease program in Fairbanks and were unrelated to the foreign minister's visit.

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