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Obelisk to Russian soldiers unveiled in France at site of WWI battles

May 29, 2018, 22:23 UTC+3 AGUILCOURT

It has been installed in the commune of Aguilcourt, department of Aisne

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AGUILCOURT /France/, May 29. /TASS/. French and Russian officials on Tuesday unveiled an obelisk commemorating the Russian soldiers, who defended France during the harsh battles of World War I.

It has been installed in the commune of Aguilcourt, department of Aisne. Regional officials, French military, Russian diplomats, and the successors of the soldiers and officers of the 3rd Brigade of the Russian Expeditionary Corps, which Russia dispatched to assist its military allies, attended the ceremony.

The monument is located on Mont Espin height that the Russian soldiers seized from the German forces after three-years-long occupation.

"The exploit of the Russian soldiers will never be forgotten," said Aguilcourt Mayor Gerard Prevost.

He recalled that the Russian battalions stormed the unassailable stronghold on Mont Espin in spring 1917. They faced a numerically stronger enemy.

Almost 2,000 Russians died, received wounds or went missing in the attack but the Russian battalions fulfilled the task set forth by the French command.

In all, the Russian expeditionary corps lost almost 5,000 men and officers in the offensive operations of 1917.

The Russian Ambassador to France, Alexei Meshkov, thanked the French authorities for paying tribute to the Russian soldiers. "Our two countries were allied in the two world wars," he said, adding that Presidents Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron had stressed the importance of shared history at their talks in St Petersburg earlier this month.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, who also chairs the Russian Military-Historical Society, sent a welcoming address that was read out at the ceremony.

"Russia rendered most precious assistance to France during the critical moments of World War I," said the French historian Pierre Malinowski, who stands at the head of an archeological expedition to the sites for former battles.

In 1914, the counteroffensive that the Russian Army began on its front before the completion of a conscription campaign, compelled the German commanders to take two army corps away from the line of advance towards Paris.

"This weakened the assault of the German armies and saved the French capital," Malinowski said.

In spite of huge losses Russia was suffering on the eastern front, it dispatched an expeditionary corps to the allies in 1916. It consisted of elitist infantry regiments.

The Russian infantrymen showed exemplary courage in the battles that unfolded in the Champagne-Ardenne region in spring 1917. They blocked to the routes of advance to Paris for the German divisions.

Lieutenant-General Nikolai Lokhvitsky, the commander of the Russian units in France, received the title of commander of the French National Order of the Legion of Honor.

Pierre Malinowski recalled that the French offensive operation in Champagne-Ardenne began already after the revolution of February 1917 in Russia, which swept away the millennium-old Russian monarchy. Russian soldiers were not formally bound anymore by the oath of allegiance that they had given to the Czar but the regiment committee voted in favor of an offensive when it held a meeting on the eve of the battle.

"All the Russian military from the commander down to the private kept their promise to help the allies," Malinowski said.

On the wave of the revolutionary events in Russia, a decision was taken to disband the corps but hundreds of Russian volunteers joined the regular troops of the allies.

The Russian legion showed its valor in the Battle of Somme in April 1918 and in the Battles of Soissons in May and September 1918. They earned the title of the honorary legion in the ranks of the French Army.

Malinowski took charge of the expedition to the places of former battles several years ago. He believes the remains of about 700 Russian soldiers, registered as missing in action, could be found at the sites of excavations.

"My objective is to find each of these heroes and to bury them with due military honors," he said.

The remains of the first soldier the expedition found last year were placed to final rest at the Russian military cemetery in Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand.

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