MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday presided over the annual Red Square parade celebrating the World War II victory over the Nazis, paying homage to the sacrifice of elderly veterans — but making no mention of the Soviet Union's allies.
Putin's brief speech from a podium in front of Lenin's Mausoleum reflected the current, uneasy period of discord between Russia and its one-time allies in the West, and was particularly striking in contrast with last year's massive Moscow celebration, which included some 40 world leaders.
Putin called the holiday, Victory Day, "a day of great triumph of our people." He said the war effort represented the people's unity.
"And history before had never seen such unity, such sacred brotherhood, such powerful faith in victory," Putin said.
He called for international solidarity in the face of current threats, saying "peace, freedom and good-neighborliness between peoples are the bulwark of a just, democratic world order and global security."
War veterans, their jackets festooned with medals and ribbons for bravery, cheered as rows of soldiers and sailors marched in formation across the plaza. For the first time, all 6,000 officers and servicemen in the parade sang the national anthem and a military song without the accompaniment of a band, and servicemen with white, blue and red flags poking out of their rifle barrels — symbolizing the Russian tricolor — performed exercises to a newly composed piece for drummers.
For many in the former Soviet Union, the victory over Nazi Germany stands out as the proudest moment in a troubled past. It was achieved at a tremendous cost, with an estimated 27 million dead and much of the western part of the country devastated.
"It was such a great privilege to serve the fatherland," said an 84-year-old veteran in the stands who gave only his first name and patronymic, Mikhail Petrovich.
That was true even though his parents, members of the Bolshevik Party under Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, had been drummed out of the party and killed during the Stalinist repression, he said.
"We were made into zombies by Stalin," the wartime leader, he said — so much so that he still fears to give his last name although he cannot name any reason to be afraid today.
"We cannot digest this democratization," he said. "There are still so many Stalinists around."
Communists and their allies held their own march, leading from the Belarus railway station — from which troops had traveled West during the war — to Lubyanka Square, where the headquarters of the KGB — now the Federal Security Service — is located. Police said upward of 10,000 people participated.
"For me, the war has not finished. I'm still fighting, as long as I have strength I will fight ... against the government, who sit in the Kremlin, who live only for themselves and who have created this regime for them and their children's benefit and their personal wealth," said veteran Nina Gulicheva, her jacket decorated with medals and a small portrait of Stalin.