[Photo courtesy CNN]
Today, May 9th, is Victory Day (celebrated May 8th in the West). A historic celebration took place in Russia today.
Troops from four NATO states marched through Red Square in Moscow for the first time on Sunday as Russia marked victory day in World War II.
In a moment of huge symbolism, soldiers from the Soviet Union’s postwar foes Britain, France and the United States stepped onto the square’s famed cobbles under blazing sunshine.
A guard of honour from ex-communist Poland, which joined NATO in 1999 and in recent months has seen a dramatic improvement in relations with Moscow, also marched in the parade.
Around two dozen world leaders were attending the 65th anniversary of the Allied victory, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of state of almost all the ex-Soviet nations.
‘Sixty five years ago Nazism was defeated and a machine that was exterminating whole peoples was halted,’ President Dmitry Medvedev said in a speech to the parade.
‘There was blood and tears. There was one choice – either victory or to become slaves. The war made us a strong nation.’
Britain’s 1st Battalion Welsh Guards marched in their full ceremonial uniform including traditional bearskin hats, red marching jackets and black trousers.
France was represented by the Normandie-Niemen squadron, which was created during World War II and fought on the Eastern Front, while the United States sent a detachment from the 2nd Battalion, 18th Regiment.
Seventy five members of a Polish battalion marched in ceremonial uniforms representing the army, air force and navy of the Polish armed forces.
A total of 127 military aircraft were to roar through the sky during the 70-minute parade, while 159 pieces of military hardware drove past the VIP grandstand erected in front of Lenin’s mausoleum.
Over 10,000 Russian troops and hundreds of units of military hardware, including nuclear-capable Topol-M missiles, were taking part in the finely choreographed parade to impress the world with Russia’s post Soviet resurgence.
‘Greetings comrades! I congratulate you on the 65th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War,’ declaimed Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, standing up in a black open-top Zil car as he inspected the Russian troops.
‘Hurrah!’ replied the troops in chorus, sending a huge wave of sound across Red Square. A civilian and former furniture executive, Serdyukov wore a suit rather than military uniform.
The authorities have made every effort to turn the day into a massive holiday, hanging banners with slogans like Victory – Let Us Be Proud across major streets and pinning huge murals to the sides of apartment blocks.
World War II is known in Russian as the Great Patriotic War and is considered to have started in 1941 with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union that brought Moscow into the war, rather than 1939.
The heroism of parents and grandparents in battles like Stalingrad and Kursk remains the subject of fierce pride in Russian families and the authorities bristle at any attempts to tarnish the memory of the Soviet sacrifice.
With Russia still finding its national identity almost two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the surrender of Nazi forces is seen by the authorities as a moment which can unify modern Russia.
However liberal analysts have expressed cynicism over the Moscow parade costing 1.3 billion roubles ($A45.12 million), saying the authorities are using the event for a show of might to reinforce their own power.
A controversial plan to plaster posters of wartime dictator Joseph Stalin around the city was shelved – reportedly on the Kremlin’s orders – and the pictures will now only be shown in museums.
The Western allies mark Victory in Europe Day each year on May 8, but Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9 as the German surrender went into force at 11:01 pm Berlin time, when it was already May 9 in Moscow.