A plan to place a 13-foot bronze monument to honor Soviet World War II aviators in a local park has been rejected by officials in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
The Russian Ministry of Defense is looking to install the 25-ton monument in Elizabeth City, which is the near the headquarters of a secret WWII mission called "Project Zebra," in which hundreds of Soviet aviators were trained at a time when U.S. and Soviet forces were allied in the fight against the Nazis.
But the Elizabeth City council voted 5-3 on March 23 against a previously signed memorandum of understanding, saying it was an indication of the current difficulties between the two countries.
"I realize it's about honoring fallen heroes from World War II, and we have Americans who fought in World War II who are buried in Russia. But times were different then," council member Anita Hummer said.
Council member Johnnie Walton said he worried the Russians could put something in the monument that could be used to remotely interfere with the Internet or the area’s electrical grid.
"Russia is known for hacking now. They're experts at hacking, and then [you could have] the largest Coast Guard base [that] can't help anybody because our computers have gone down, because Russia controls our mouse," he said.
A previous city council had in May 2017 unanimously approved the monument, which had been proposed by the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs. But the newly elected council changed course and rejected the plan.
“We're at war with Russia still. We're in a cyberwar here. They interfered in our election," said Hezekiah Brown, a resident who spoke against the plan in public hearings.
Mayor Bettie Parker said it was possible the vote might have turned out differently had it been held earlier.
"I keep hearing now is not the time to deal with anything that's coming from Russia," she said.
Council member Billy Caudle said he supports the monument, adding that people who oppose anything to do with Russia are "confusing current events with history."
If the plan had come to fruition, the Russian Defense Ministry would have paid for the monument, with the city then covering some $228,000 for improvements to the park where it would be installed.
Project Zebra, which remained classified until 2013, helped train about 300 Soviet aviators as part of missions to find and bomb German submarines.