MOSCOW – Rows of missiles and tanks rumbled through Moscow's Red Square and dozens of combat jets streaked overhead in the Victory Day parade Saturday in the largest display of military might since the Soviet times.
President Dmitry Medvedev warned sternly that Russia was ready to respond to any challenge and said its military has proven that in real action — a clear reference to the war with neighboring ex-Soviet Georgia.
While Medvedev didn't specifically mention the war, he alluded to the five-day conflict, saying that the World War II taught a lesson which "remains acute today when again there are those who engage in military adventurism."
The August war erupted when Georgian troops moved to restore control over the separatist province of South Ossetia, which hosted Russian peacekeepers and had close ties with Moscow. Russia responded with overwhelming might, sending troops and tanks that quickly crushed the Georgian military and drove deep into Georgia.
Medvedev said that among soldiers taking part in Victory Day parade, "there are those who have proven high capability of the Russian military in real action." "We are confident that any aggression against our citizens will be firmly repelled," he said.
The war and Russia's subsequent recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Georgian separatist province, badly strained Moscow's relations with the West.
Medvedev underlined Russia's firm support for South Ossetia and Abkhazia by sending his Victory Day greetings to leaders of both regions, putting them on equal par with heads of ex-Soviet nations who he also congratulated.
Russia and NATO sought recently to rebuild ties frozen over the war, but tensions soared again over NATO's military exercises in Georgia launched earlier this week. On Wednesday, Russia announced the expulsion of two Moscow-based NATO officials in a tit-for-tat move after NATO revoked the accreditation of two Russian envoys to alliance headquarters in Brussels.
Medvedev on Saturday said respect for international law is essential for maintaining global peace and reaffirmed his push for a new European security treaty.
He added that security in Europe must be based on "reliable arms control and reasonable sufficiency of military structures, broad cooperation between states and exclusively peaceful settlement of conflicts."
Victory Day, marking the defeat of Nazi Germany, is Russia's most important secular holiday, and the parade reflected the Kremlin's efforts to revive the nation's armed forces and global clout.
Russia first restored the Soviet-era practice of annual displays of heavy weaponry last year, but this time it put even more weapons on display.
Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, his predecessor and now prime minister, watched the parade from a podium in from of Lenin's tomb which was bashfully hidden by panels in three colors of Russian flag in an apparent effort to dodge comparisons with the Soviet past.
The show displayed about 9,000 goose-stepping troops and more than 100 combat vehicles, including new Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles. For the first time, it featured the state-of-the art S-400 air defense missiles which Russian officials say are unrivaled in their combat capability.
Also taking part in the parade were 69 combat planes and helicopters — twice the number featuring in last year's show. They included the world's heaviest An-124 Ruslan cargo plane, Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers and scores of fighter jets and helicopter gunships.
"I think, the Red Square parade made everyone feel proud for our country," Medvedev told veterans at a Kremlin reception which followed the show.