MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Dmitry Medvedev struck a conciliatory note at Russia’s Victory Day military parade on Sunday, urging world powers to unite for peace and defending his decision to invite NATO troops to march on Red Square.
For the first time since Stalin began commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, serving US, British Polish and French troops joined over 11,000 Russian soldiers to parade past the Kremlin’s red walls in bright sunshine.
The opposition Communists and some Soviet war veterans condemned the move but Medvedev said in a speech that the lesson from World War Two was “to urge us to unite in solidarity” to counter present-day threats and ensure global security.
“Today, at the military parade, soldiers of Russia, of countries of the (former Soviet Union), and of the Allied powers will march together, in one column which is evidence of our common readiness to defend peace”, he said.
Welsh Guards from the British military marched in their trademark black bearskin hats ahead of 70 troops from the US 170th Infantry Brigade in a section reserved for the Soviet Union’s war allies.
Underlining the message of reconciliation, a 1,200-strong military band closed the parade with a moving rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Hu Jintao and other world leaders looked on.
Russia’s Communists, still the country’s biggest opposition party, held a demonstration after the parade, chanting “Glory to the great Stalin,” to protest against NATO forces for marching over the square, home to the embalmed body of Lenin.
Most of the Soviet war veterans attending the parade seemed unconcerned by the presence of NATO soldiers, though they did not applaud when they marched past.
“Why not? Let them see how we celebrate a solemn parade,” said ex-World War Two soldier Grigory Petrovich Zabuski. “I’m absolutely not against it. I met English troops myself on the Elbe on May 4, 1945.”