Advertisement
News

World leaders unite as Russia proudly marks V-E Day

MOSCOW — MOSCOW - Amid martial pomp and nationalistic pride, Russia celebrated the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany with a Victory Day parade in Red Square that was attended by President Bush and scores of world leaders who put aside lingering differences about interpretations of the past.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and more than 50 other heads of government watched goose-stepping soldiers march past a reviewing stand in front of Lenin's tomb. The soldiers carried the red flag bearing the hammer-and-sickle emblem of the Soviet Union, whose troops carried a similar banner when they captured Berlin in 1945. Jet fighters streaked overhead, and trucks carrying decorated veterans rumbled along the rain-slick pavement.

Advertisement

"For the peoples of the former Soviet Union, it will always be the day celebrating the great feats they achieved together," Putin said. "And for the countries of Europe and the entire planet, it marks the day when the world was saved.

"Our fathers and grandfathers were willing to lay down their lives for the honor and freedom of their country. They were united and defended their fatherland. I bow low today before all veterans of the Great Patriotic War."

Advertisement

Without acknowledging Soviet domination of Eastern Europe in the decades after World War II, Putin said the conflict demonstrated the importance of unity against new threats.

"The lessons of the war send us the warning that indifference, temporizing and playing accomplice to violence inevitably lead to terrible tragedies on a planetary scale," he said.

"Faced with the real threat of terrorism today, we must therefore remain faithful to the memory of our fathers. It is our duty to defend a world order based on security and justice, and on a new culture of relations among nations that will not allow a repeat of any war, neither cold nor hot."

World leaders join

Putin's guests included Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy - the defeated Axis powers of the war. They were joined by President Hu Jintao of China, President Jacques Chirac of France and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as well as the presidents of Belarus, Latvia Poland and Ukraine.

Putin, Bush and other leaders walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and placed red carnations along the Kremlin wall. Though the two leaders have publicly debated Russia's commitment to democracy and the rule of law in recent days, they appeared relaxed and cordial.

After Putin's speech and the band played the Russian anthem - the old Soviet anthem, resurrected by Putin with new words - Bush leaned toward him and spoke a few words. That prompted Putin to place a hand on Bush's arm and, as cameras showed, mouth the words "Thank you" in English.

Bush's presence was a diplomatic coup for Putin, and the American president was given a seat of honor next to him. Moscow's power and influence on the international stage has waned considerably in the 14 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the presence of so many world leaders seemed a testament to Russia's present as well as its past.

Advertisement

Putin spoke of the world's obligation to avoid another conflict like World War II, which claimed 40 million, including the lives of 27 million Soviet citizens.

Millions died in clashes barely remembered in the West, including history's largest tank battle, at Kursk, near the Ukrainian border; the 900-day siege of Leningrad, in which 1 million Russian soldiers and civilians were killed; and the battle of Stalingrad, on the Volga River, which cost Germany 300,000 troops and may have doomed the Third Reich.

"May the 9th has always been and always will be a sacred day for our country, a celebration that not only inspires and elevates us but also fills our hearts with a most complex mix of feelings - joy and sorrow, sympathy and nobility," Putin said. "Victory Day is our closest, sincerest and most truly national holiday."

Two of the three Baltic States, Estonia and Lithuania, snubbed yesterday's ceremonies, demanding that Russia acknowledge that 1945 marked the beginning of decades of Soviet occupation of much of Central and Eastern Europe.

During his European visit, Bush has called on the Russian president to acknowledge the "occupation and Communist oppression." And he reminded the Kremlin that "all free and successful countries" recognize "freedom of worship, freedom of the press, economic liberty, the rule of law and the limitation of power through checks and balances." Putin is accused by critics of ignoring or weakening these principles.

When Putin spoke yesterday in Red Square, he repeated his assertion that Russia will forge a form of democracy reflecting its history and culture.

Advertisement

"Our policy is based on the ideals of freedom and democracy and the right of every nation to choose its own path of development," Putin said.

The Russian president, a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB security service, appeared to revel in the exaltation of the Soviet Union's role in World War II. Thousands of veterans invited to Red Square for the event proudly wore chests decked with flashing Soviet medals. The band played old Red Army tunes. Soldiers in World War II uniforms carried flags emblazoned with the image of Lenin.

Not all Russians were comfortable with the flaunting of Soviet-era emblems.

"Now we are living through a re-Stalinization, if only at a symbolic level," said Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, on BBC Television.

Tears and joy

Many veterans seemed delighted that world leaders attended what, in most years, has been a Soviet or Russian celebration.

Advertisement

"My family at home, watching on television, they were crying," said Nina D. Golovataya, 81, who served as a nurse with a Soviet mobile surgical unit. "It was so touching."

She had joined her unit on the Belarussian front, witnessed the blood bath at Stalingrad, followed the advancing Red Army through southeastern Europe and wound up in Austria when the Germans surrendered.

She assisted in almost every possible type of surgery during nearly four years on the battlefield, she said. One of her friends was nearly crippled from standing at operating tables hour after hour, day after day.

Yesterday, she wore her blue nurse's uniform and rode in one of the World War II-type trucks that ferried veterans across Red Square in columns so straight they looked as if they were from a draftsman's table.

Her vehicle was in the column closest to the reviewing stand, and she got a good look at the guests of honor.

"I saw your President Bush and his wife," she said, laughing at the notion of an American president attending a parade in Red Square.

Advertisement

Another veteran, Vladimir P. Dogadin, 80, was joyful about the festivities, described by some participants as the most lavish and elaborate in the 60-year history of the Victory Day parades.

"I am very grateful to God knows who that I've lived to see this Victory Day," he said. "It's wonderful to realize that I'm part of this great moment in history."

As he stood in Pushkin Square, gold-colored medals dangling from his chest, young people came up to the white-haired Dogadin to thank him or snap his photo.

The former Red Army telegrapher, who served with an artillery battalion, told admiring passers-by that he had spent Sunday reading letters he had received at the front from family members who had died during the war. He also thought about comrades killed during the years of fighting. One friend, he recalled, was "torn to pieces before my eyes" when a grenade launcher misfired.

"I cried last night," he said, clutching a spray of pink, white and red carnations.

Military review

Advertisement

Putin greeted each arriving president or prime minister. When Bush walked up and took down his umbrella for a photo, Putin laughed and collapsed his own.

The Red Square parade began in classic Soviet style, with Sergei Ivanov, the minister of defense, reviewing the columns of troops while standing in a vintage Soviet convertible.

As his car stopped in front of each of the assembled military formations, Ivanov addressed the troops as "Comrades" and congratulated them on the 60th anniversary of victory in what is known here as the Great Patriotic War.

Then the soldiers began to march. Sappers with bomb-sniffing dogs carried World War II-era metal detectors. Tankers wore padded helmets. Waves of fighter jets swooped overhead: Three left white, blue and red smoke trails in the colors of the modern Russian flag.

After the parade, Bush, Putin and the other chiefs of state walked from the square to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in a tree-shaded park along the Kremlin's western wall, where they laid bouquets of red carnations. Later, Putin held a private reception in the Kremlin.

Bush then met with American veterans at the U.S. Embassy. Later, he left for Tbilisi, Georgia, where he met with President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Advertisement

The Georgian president, who did not attend the Kremlin events, has clashed with Moscow over two Russian military bases in Georgia and over Russia's support for two breakaway regions.


Advertisement