Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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Russia Celebrates Anniversary of Victory
May 9, 2003

MOSCOW (AP) - Bedecked with medals, aging Russian veterans celebrated the allied victory over Nazi Germany 58 years ago, a moment that still resonates powerfully in a country that emerged from World War II devastated but triumphant.

Thousands of officers and cadets paraded Friday down the cobblestones of Red Square outside the Kremlin, the highlight of Russia's annual Victory Day celebrations. Elderly veterans, their numbers dwindling, dotted the crowd watching from the side of the square.

President Vladimir Putin, addressing the parade from a stand in front of Lenin's tomb, congratulated veterans, soldiers and Russian citizens on what he called ``this great and sacred holiday.'' He also noted that the ``priceless'' unity which enabled the allies to defeat the Nazis was needed again to fight terrorism.

Meanwhile, in a reminder of Russia's current war in Chechnya, an explosive device went off near a stadium where a Victory Day parade was scheduled in the Chechen capital Grozny, injuring two Russian servicemen and a traffic policeman, Russian news reports said. The parade was canceled.

Last year, a bomb blast at a Victory Day parade killed 43 people in Kaspiisk, a city in the Dagestan region adjacent to Chechnya.

His chest covered with dozens of medals glinting in the sun, 80-year-old veteran Alexei Rumyantsev said ``Victory Day is first of all the memory of the fallen and honor for all those who are still alive.''

Rumyantsev, an artillery man during the war, said as Soviet forces approached Berlin in 1945 ``it was a meat-grinder, we suffered heavy casualties, and at that time we vowed never to forget those who died. I have not forgotten.''

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov rolled up in a long gray convertible Zil limousine to review the troops, standing ramrod straight in a suit that contrasted with their crisp green uniforms and white gloves.

Putin, honoring the dead and the survivors of the war, said the Soviet Union defeated a foe that ``had no doubt of its victory and conquered almost all of Europe but was broken - broken here on our land.''

He said the world waited too long before opposing Hitler and warned it must not happen again.

``A new, global and very serious peril has appeared in the world: international terrorism. To counteract it, we must unite the efforts of all civilized countries,'' he said.

However, in an apparent reference to the United States and its war on Iraq, Putin said the fascist powers in World War II had ``claimed for themselves the right to resolve the fate of the world, the fates of other countries and peoples.''

Moscow has sought to counter Washington's growing global power since the Soviet collapse of 1991, and Putin warned the United States against invading Iraq.

While major Soviet-era holidays such as May Day and Revolution Day have lost their ideological meaning, the victory in World War II - which Russians also call the Great Patriotic War - is recalled as glorious achievement across much of the former Soviet Union.

Nazi forces attacked in 1941, surprising dictator Josef Stalin and wreaking death and destruction across a wide swath of the Soviet Union. The tide turned two years later at the battle of Stalingrad and other sites along the front, and Soviet forces eventually drove the Germans out and reached Berlin.

The Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people in the war.

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