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Tight Security for World Leaders in Russia for Victory Day

More than 50 world leaders, including President Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, are preparing to gather in Russia for events marking the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II in Europe.

In the days leading up to the 60th anniversary of the Allies' victory over the Nazis, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly referred to the Soviet sacrifice during World War II, when millions of Russian civilians died.

He says Russia's veterans provide a rich example of service.

Mr. Putin says the lessons of World War II emphasize the need for the global community to fight against modern day threats like international terrorism, which he says now poses the greatest risk to humankind. As it was 60 years ago, he says, it is only possible to defeat this threat with solidarity and mutual trust.

Vladimir Putin
President Putin has invited more than 50 world leaders to attend the festivities in Moscow, which will culminate with a military parade on Red Square Monday, featuring 2,500 war veterans, as well as Soviet-era tanks and trucks.

Still jittery after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in the past few years, blamed on rebel Chechen separatists, Russian authorities are leaving nothing to chance concerning security.

Just days before world leaders were due to arrive, Russian security forces said they had foiled alleged Chechen rebel plans to attack towns in the North Caucasus with cyanide-based poison and explosives.

A total of 24,000 police, including some 2,000 special forces, will be working round-the-clock to keep the peace. In the skies above Moscow, anti-aircraft forces will provide still another layer of protection. City officials have even made arrangements to remove street vendors and homeless people from downtown areas, and all Russians have been urged to retreat to their country houses, or dachas, to watch the events on television.

On the sidelines of the festivities, President Putin will oversee a weekend summit Sunday of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent states - a grouping of former Soviet republics. He also hosts an EU-Russia Summit on Tuesday. Mr. Putin is also to hold talks with President Bush, who, U.S. officials say, will continue to stress U.S. concerns about democracy in Russia.

Despite all the meetings, the director of Moscow's Heritage Foundation, Yevgeni Volk, tells VOA he expects the ceremonies will be the main focus of the gathered leaders.

"The celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe day will be more ceremonial, and, of course, it will be more a public relations show, more a propaganda event, for [President] Putin to demonstrate his popularity among Western leaders," he explained. "So, I don't believe the issues of substance will be really high during these ceremonial events."

Noticeably absent from the celebrations will be the leaders of the Baltic Republics of Lithuania and Estonia. They say Russia's May 9 celebrations fail to take into account the painful memories for their people, who regard the Allies' victory as the beginning of 50 years of Soviet occupation of the Baltics.

Latvia's president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, has agreed to attend. But, she says she is only doing so in order to remind the world that half of Europe was not free at the end of the war, but rather, was, "stripped of its statehood, independence and national identity."