MOSCOW - Amid martial pomp and nationalistic pride, Russia celebrated the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany with a Victory Day parade in Red Square that was attended by President Bush and scores of world leaders who put aside lingering differences about interpretations of the past.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and more than 50 other heads of government watched goose-stepping soldiers march past a reviewing stand in front of Lenin's tomb. The soldiers carried the red flag bearing the hammer-and-sickle emblem of the Soviet Union, whose troops carried a similar banner when they captured Berlin in 1945. Jet fighters streaked overhead, and trucks carrying decorated veterans rumbled along the rain-slick pavement.
"For the peoples of the former Soviet Union, it will always be the day celebrating the great feats they achieved together," Putin said. "And for the countries of Europe and the entire planet, it marks the day when the world was saved.
"Our fathers and grandfathers were willing to lay down their lives for the honor and freedom of their country. They were united and defended their fatherland. I bow low today before all veterans of the Great Patriotic War."
Without acknowledging Soviet domination of Eastern Europe in the decades after World War II, Putin said the conflict demonstrated the importance of unity against new threats.
"The lessons of the war send us the warning that indifference, temporizing and playing accomplice to violence inevitably lead to terrible tragedies on a planetary scale," he said.
"Faced with the real threat of terrorism today, we must therefore remain faithful to the memory of our fathers. It is our duty to defend a world order based on security and justice, and on a new culture of relations among nations that will not allow a repeat of any war, neither cold nor hot."
World leaders join
Putin's guests included Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy - the defeated Axis powers of the war. They were joined by President Hu Jintao of China, President Jacques Chirac of France and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as well as the presidents of Belarus, Latvia Poland and Ukraine.
Putin, Bush and other leaders walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and placed red carnations along the Kremlin wall. Though the two leaders have publicly debated Russia's commitment to democracy and the rule of law in recent days, they appeared relaxed and cordial.
After Putin's speech and the band played the Russian anthem - the old Soviet anthem, resurrected by Putin with new words - Bush leaned toward him and spoke a few words. That prompted Putin to place a hand on Bush's arm and, as cameras showed, mouth the words "Thank you" in English.
Bush's presence was a diplomatic coup for Putin, and the American president was given a seat of honor next to him. Moscow's power and influence on the international stage has waned considerably in the 14 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the presence of so many world leaders seemed a testament to Russia's present as well as its past.
Putin spoke of the world's obligation to avoid another conflict like World War II, which claimed 40 million, including the lives of 27 million Soviet citizens.
Millions died in clashes barely remembered in the West, including history's largest tank battle, at Kursk, near the Ukrainian border; the 900-day siege of Leningrad, in which 1 million Russian soldiers and civilians were killed; and the battle of Stalingrad, on the Volga River, which cost Germany 300,000 troops and may have doomed the Third Reich.
"May the 9th has always been and always will be a sacred day for our country, a celebration that not only inspires and elevates us but also fills our hearts with a most complex mix of feelings - joy and sorrow, sympathy and nobility," Putin said. "Victory Day is our closest, sincerest and most truly national holiday."
Two of the three Baltic States, Estonia and Lithuania, snubbed yesterday's ceremonies, demanding that Russia acknowledge that 1945 marked the beginning of decades of Soviet occupation of much of Central and Eastern Europe.
During his European visit, Bush has called on the Russian president to acknowledge the "occupation and Communist oppression." And he reminded the Kremlin that "all free and successful countries" recognize "freedom of worship, freedom of the press, economic liberty, the rule of law and the limitation of power through checks and balances." Putin is accused by critics of ignoring or weakening these principles.
When Putin spoke yesterday in Red Square, he repeated his assertion that Russia will forge a form of democracy reflecting its history and culture.
"Our policy is based on the ideals of freedom and democracy and the right of every nation to choose its own path of development," Putin said.