Putin blasts Georgian leader at war statue opening
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin unveiled a new World War Two memorial on Tuesday and attacked his old foe, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, for "turning his back" on shared Soviet history.
The monument, titled "We fought fascism together," at the Moscow district of Poklonnaya Gora shows Georgian soldier Meliton Kantaria and Russian Mikhail Yegorov, who raised the Soviet banner over the German Reichstag in captured Berlin in 1945.
"The monument on Poklonnaya Gora is our tribute to the memory of the immortal heroism of our ancestors, but it is also a testimony of our common will," said Putin, referring to the Soviet Union and its 15 republics.
Soldiers in grey knee-length uniforms goose-stepped to lay flowers at the base of the huge statue as wartime poems were read over loudspeakers to the crowd in sub-zero temperatures.
The monument is styled after one that was destroyed in Georgia last year under Saakashvili's orders to make way for a new parliament building in the town of Kutaisi.
"This disgraceful act of state vandalism drew sharp disapproval and outrage in the world, primarily in Georgia itself because people cannot live with (leaders) who destroy memories of their heroes and turn their back on their own history," Putin said.
Georgian opposition politician Nino Burjanadze attended the ceremony and joined Putin in criticising the Georgian leadership, which has pushed the small southern Caucasus country -- criss-crossed by gas and oil pipelines -- away from Moscow and closer to the west. Russia and U.S. ally Georgia fought a five-day war in 2008.
Putin, a 58-year-old former KGB spy who watched from a posting in East Germany as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, has sought to claw back some of Russia's lost glory. He has described the collapse of the USSR as the "greatest geopolitical disaster of the last century."
Analysts say Putin's praise for the Soviet Union, led by Josef Stalin, in defeating Nazi Germany is an attempt to assert traction over other post-Soviet countries, which shared losses in what is referred to as the "Great Patriotic War" in Russian.
The original raising of the Soviet flag over the Reichstag was not captured on film, but it was re-enacted later for the cameras in what became an iconic image. The featuring of a Russian and a Georgian soldier was meant to highlight the diversity of the Soviet Army and please Stalin, a Georgian.
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