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Russia Remembers World War II Sacrifices

Russia is staging its annual Victory Day commemorations, marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The focus of the events has once again been on Red Square where thousands of soldiers, dignitaries and veterans, took part in a huge parade. Emma Simpson reports for VOA from Moscow.

It is a tradition that has changed little since Soviet days. Goose stepping soldiers marched solemnly across Red Square to the sounds of a Russian army band, with fighter jets roaring overhead.

This is one of Russia's most important national holidays, a day when the country remembers its great victory over the Nazis. The loss of human life was staggering - about 27 million Soviet citizens died.

The role of the Red Army is still viewed as sacred among most Russians and this year those marking Victory Day are concerned Russia's small Baltic neighbor Estonia has dishonored the army's sacrifice.

An Estonian government decision to move a Soviet war memorial from the center of the city to a military cemetery in the capital, Tallinn, resulted in outrage and violent demonstrations earlier this month in Moscow.

Russia says the relocation of the statue was an insult to those who sacrificed their lives liberating Estonians from the Nazis. But for Estonians, the statue was a symbol of Soviet occupation following the end of the war.

The dispute has led to a sharp increase in tensions between the two countries.

Speaking from the podium in front of Lenin's Tomb, President Putin made a thinly veiled attack on the Estonian decision.

"Those who are trying today to disparage those who died in the Great Patriotic War, those who defile monuments to war heroes, they insult their own people and sow disagreements and new distrust between countries," he said.

President Putin described Victory Day as a holiday of huge moral importance. Like the heroic feats of their fathers and grandfathers, Russians today, he said, would also selflessly defend the interests of their motherland.