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Western Troops March on Russia's Red Square

  • Peter Fedynsky

Troops from the United States and three other NATO countries have joined Russian troops in a march on Moscow's Red Square to commemorate the allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev greeted a procession of foreign dignitaries who arrived on Red Square in Mercedes limousines an hour before the parade. They included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who sat next to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the reviewing stand. Chinese President Hu Jin Tao was seated with President Dmitri Medvedev.

The leaders of France and Italy canceled their appearances at the last minute citing the euro financial crisis.

A color guard began festivities with a show of the Russian flag and the so-called Victory Banner, the Soviet flag raised on the German Reichstag in Berlin 65 years ago.

In his remarks, President Medvedev referred to the need for international cooperation to prevent war.

Mr. Medvedev says modern threats can only be opposed together. He adds that the problems of global security can only be resolved on the basis of neighborly relations so that the ideals of justice and goodness may triumph throughout the world.

Marching on Red Square for the first time were troops representing NATO countries -- the United States, Great Britain, France and Poland. The commander of the participating American unit, Captain Matthew Strand, told VOA the experience raised the level of camaraderie between NATO participants and their Russian counterparts. Captain Strand recalled his 90-year-old grandfather, an American pilot during the war.

"Every time my grandpa meets a veteran from World War Two, even if he doesn't know him, the second he meets him, they automatically have something in common," Strand said. "And just by me having a grandfather that was in it, I have something in common with the veterans I meet here in Russia."

A recent public opinion poll by the independent Levada Center indicates an eight percent minority of Russians, mostly Communists and nationalists, expressed strong opposition to the foreign presence in the parade. Their slogan was, "No NATO boots on Red Square." But more than half of the Russians surveyed approved of NATO participation.

Soviet World War Two Veteran Alexander Rohanyan recalled Americans also died to defeat the Nazis, and provided the Soviet Union with material assistance that kept the effort going on the Eastern Front.

Rohanyan says Soviet troops ate American bread, American powdered eggs, and used vehicles provided by the United States. Americans helped a lot, he says. He notes there is no escaping the fact that more Soviets died, but it was their country, not that of the Americans. Nonetheless, the veteran acknowledges the United States helped the Soviet Union substantially.

World War Two vintage T-34 Soviet tanks led the parade of military hardware. It included a wide array of weapons from the modern Russian arsenal; armor, short- and long-range missiles, helicopters, fighters and bombers.

But independent Russian military analyst Alexander Konovalov told VOA the weapons displayed are old systems, some with slight modifications passed off as new arms.

Konovalov says Russian armed forces, as before, have colossal problems. He says they lag considerably behind in terms of quality and equipment for regular forces.

In a proposal by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Victory Day celebrations were to have been accompanied by posters of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin on city streets. The Kremlin, however, prohibited the move, relegating Stalin to a few indoor locations out of reach of graffiti artists who may have defaced his image. Communists supported Luzhkov, but opponents condemn the dictator for repressing and killing millions of Soviet citizens.

Viktor Kremenyuk at Moscow's USA-Canada Institute explains that Stalin weakened the country, having eliminated some of its best military leaders three years before the German invasion.

Yes, says Kremenyuk, victory was achieved, but why at such a high price? He says no one wants to take responsibility for that fact, even after Stalin's death. He asks why the best segments of the male population were killed, and why the country was forced to rise from its knees after the war without those Stalin eliminated before.

Victory Day celebrations were held throughout Russia and former Soviet republics. The parade in Kyiv, was shown live on Russian national television. The Ukrainian one did not begin to compare with the precision choreography and fire power displayed in Moscow. It included, however, civilians, among them children playing with beach balls, a pop singer, and youngsters in Ukrainian national dress passing out flowers to veterans.

Festivities in the Southern republic of Dagestan were marred by a car bomb near a military base in the city of Kaspiysk. Only the driver was reported killed.