Nato troops join Moscow victory day celebration, Sarkozy absent
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Troops from the Nato military alliance paraded on Moscow’s Red Square for the first time ever on Sunday, invited by Russia’s government to take part in celebrations of the end of World War II. Although French troops took part, President Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled at the last minute.
Soldiers from Britain, France, Poland and the United States marched ahead of over 10,000 Russian troops and three nuclear-capable Topol-M missiles, which under the Soviet Union would have been pointed west.
France was represented by the Normandie-Niemen squadron, which fought on the eastern front.
But Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi both announced on Saturday that they would not attend because of the crisis that his hit the eurozone.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were present, as were most of the leaders of ex-Soviet states that have since become independent.
But Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili was not among them. In April a Kremlin aide said that it would be “extremely bizarre” if he were invited since he had ordered the destruction of a Soviet-era monument to war heroes in the Georgian town of Kutaisi. Russia and Georgia fought a brief war over South Ossetia in 2008.
The run-up to the celebrations saw a row over the use of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov announced in February that posters showing Stalin would be hung around the city at the request of some veterans.
But other veterans and human rights groups objected because of the authoritarian nature of his regime and his alleged poor leadership at the beginning of the war.
The plan was abandoned and in an interview published Friday President Dmitri Medvedev declared the Soviet Union a “totalitarian regime”.
But Boris Dubin, of the Levada Analytical Centre, believes that the country’s present rulers regard Sunday’s celebrations as a symbol of lost power.
“The Russian government has a certain nostalgia for the time when Russia was not just a state but an empire,” he told RFI. “Today, for example, most of the media are trying to get Soviet symbols rehabilitated.”
Officials in the Russian Caucasus republic of Dagestan claim to have foiled a “major terrorist attack” on Sunday when a car packed with explosives blew up near a military base after being stopped by a police officer. One person in the car died.
In Chechnya, which like Dagestan faces Islamist unrest, police say they shot a bomber as he prepared to trigger an explosion.
The mine disaster in Siberia has also cast a pall over the day’s celebrations.
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