Russia Marks WWII Victory Day With Biggest Parade Since Soviet Era
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Russia is marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany today with massive displays of power and unity. The traditional Victory Day Parade in Moscow's Red Square was the biggest since Soviet times. The Kremlin is using the event to whip up patriotism and, some say, to revive Soviet ideals of obedience to the state. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: In many ways, Russia inherited its status as a world power from the Soviet Union, which gained that status with its victory over Germany in World War II. That's one reason why this holiday is so important. It reconnects Russians with that struggle and reasserts the country's military might.
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FLINTOFF: Military bands and even a chorus provided martial music as thousands of troops passed in review and warplanes flew in formations overhead. President Vladimir Putin watched the spectacle from a reviewing stand he shared with heads of state from about 30 countries, including China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
Western leaders were largely absent in a show of opposition to Russia's conflict with Ukraine. But Putin's focus is on the anniversary of the war 70 years ago. He's accused the West of trying to diminish the Soviet Union's rightful role in that victory by distorting history with what he calls cynical lies.
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VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian, through interpreter) Their goal is obvious - to undermine Russia's power and moral authority, to deprive it of its status as a victorious nation with all the ensuing international legal consequences.
FLINTOFF: The charge that Russia's enemies are trying to distort history isn't new. Last year, Putin signed a vaguely worded law making it a crime to spread false information about the activity of the USSR during the years of World War II. That makes it dangerous for Russians to have critical discussions about things like the wartime decisions of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Analyst Konstantin von Eggert says the authorities are quietly changing the view of Stalin's role in the war that emerged in the decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
KONSTANTIN VON EGGERT: It said the Russian people won the war in spite and despite interference and brutality of the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin.
FLINTOFF: Von Eggert, a commentator and host at Kommersant Radio in Moscow, says the historical line emerging from the Kremlin now is that Stalin, the supreme authority, won the war and that the people followed.
EGGERT: It is one of the essential elements of the new identity that Mr. Putin wants to give the Russians, and it is trust in whoever sits in the Kremlin. Be ready to sacrifice your everything, including your life, if the state wants you to do that.
FLINTOFF: The theme of sacrifice is very real in a country that lost 27 million people during the war. After the military parade in Red Square, several hundred-thousand ordinary Russians took part in a march through central Moscow. Many of them carried poster-sized photographs of family members who served in the war in what's known as the march of the Immortal Regiment. When the march reached Red Square, Putin himself joined it, carrying a photo of his father. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.
(SOUNDBITE OF MILITARY PARADE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.