German FM marks WWII anniversary at site of Stalingrad battle

7th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday laid a wreath at the site of the Battle of Stalingrad as part of commemorations to mark 70 years since the defeat of Nazi forces in WWII.

Berlin's top diplomat, alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, paid his respects at a military cemetery near the Russian city of Volgograd -- the modern name of Stalingrad -- before signing a book of remembrance at the city's memorial complex.

The sombre event came as Moscow gears up for a massive military parade on Saturday to celebrate victory in World War II that has been snubbed by Western leaders due to tensions with Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

The savage five months of fighting for Stalingrad was one of the bloodiest battles in World War II and the eventual Soviet victory there marked a key turning point in the conflict.

Well over a million people are believed to have died in the bloodshed at Stalingrad as Soviet forces halted and then turned the tide on the invading Nazi forces.

"The suffering that the Nazi German forces inflicted on the population and soldiers here in Volgograd -- formerly Stalingrad -- was completely incomprehensible," Steinmeier said.

Russia and the West have been locked in their worst standoff since the Cold War after Moscow seized Ukraine's Crimea region last year and was accused of masterminding a brutal separatist conflict in the east.

"For me, because of the crisis in Ukraine, it was especially important to come here as a sign of reconciliation and understanding," Steinmeier said.

"As complicated as things have been, as different as our opinions are on different issues, faced with the memory of Stalingrad we have to try as much as we can to resolve the conflict in Ukraine."

Lavrov for his part said that Moscow attached "particular importance to the increase in dialogue between Moscow and Berlin."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to visit Moscow a day after the Red Square victory parade on May 10 to lay a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier and hold talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

"We are pinning big hopes on the talks that are scheduled for the May 10 visit to Moscow by German Chancellor Angela Merkel," Lavrov said.

Merkel has played a lead role in trying to resolve the conflict in Ukraine and helped thrash out a fragile truce deal in February alongside the leaders of Ukraine, Russia and France.

© 2015 AFP

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