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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Salutes Veterans and Allies

MTPutin seen giving his Victory Day speech on a video screen on Red Square.
President Vladimir Putin, his eyes moist with tears during a Soviet-style Victory Day parade on Red Square, saluted the Soviet soldiers who fought to defeat Nazi forces in World War II and said Russia would always remember the assistance provided by its wartime allies.

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"I bow low before all veterans of the Great Patriotic War," Putin told 57 world leaders and 4,500 war veterans gathered on a drizzly Monday morning to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany.

"The most cruel and decisive events unfolded on the territory of the Soviet Union," Putin said. "We know that the Soviet Union in those years lost tens of millions of its citizens."

Putin, in remarks that remarkably softened the historical Soviet line, stressed that Russians "have never divided the victory between ours and theirs, and we will always remember the help of the allies." The Allies' role got scant mention in Soviet-era textbooks.

Before the parade, Putin solemnly stood for more than an hour under a huge black umbrella, his wife, Lyudmila, at his side, greeting the 57 heads of state and other dignitaries as they arrived at the Kremlin's Cathedral Square in sleek Mercedes limousines every 60 seconds. The guests arrived in order of how their countries are listed in the Russian alphabet -- from Australia to Japan -- and, after getting a carefully measured welcome from Putin, walked down a damp gray carpet to their seats near the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko received only a brief handshake from the Putins, while German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der and U.S. President George W. Bush and their wives were greeted with hugs and kisses.

After shaking hands with the last guest, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the Putins walked past the dignitaries and war veterans applauding in reviewing stands to sit in the front row between the Bushes and French President Jacques Chirac.

The parade began with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov addressing hundreds of soldiers lined up in perfect rectangles on the square. Standing in a gray ZiL cabriolet, Ivanov congratulated the men in a slightly high-pitched voice and elicited from them three hurrahs.

After receiving a report from Ivanov that all was ready for the parade, Putin addressed the gathering in a speech that declared May 9 as "a day of victory of good over evil; freedom over tyranny."

Putin tried to set aside differences with Eastern Europe, which was freed from Nazi Germany but wound up under Soviet rule, saying there must never be "a repeat of the Cold War."

Putin, in a nod to his warm friendship with Schr?der, said the reconciliation between Russia and Germany was "one of the most important postwar accomplishments." He also acknowledged the contribution of German anti-fascists in the Nazi defeat.

As Putin sat back down, Bush whispered something into his ear. Putin smiled broadly and mouthed "Thank you."

As an orchestra struck up a triumphant march, the parade started on the square with a procession of cadet drummers and standard-bearers. They were followed by formations of soldiers wearing World War II-style uniforms and carrying insignias symbolizing the different military units that fought in the war. The formations included sappers carrying mine detectors and leading sniffer dogs on leashes; tank men in black uniforms and padded headsets; and infantrymen brandishing long Mosin rifles with bayonets.

As the cavalry passed by the viewing stands, the orchestra muffled its music to avoid scaring the horses, although some still shied nervously on the granite cobblestones.

A total of 7,000 soldiers participated in the parade.

When legendary wartime polutorka trucks entered the square, thousands of war veterans wearing shiny medals leaped to their feet in the reviewing stands. Veterans sitting in the trucks waved red carnations as tears ran down their cheeks. Putin smiled back at them, his own eyes red with tears. Ivanov, his eyes also watery with tears, applauded and pressed his hands over his breast.

Of the foreign dignitaries, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cheered the veterans most enthusiastically. Japan's Koizumi was most reserved. "His stern face meant that he was expressing respect," a spokesman for the Japanese delegation, Akira Chiba, explained later.

As the trucks rolled through the square, 12 fighter jets -- in two formations of nine and three planes -- screamed overhead, painting the sky with red, blue and white smoke to form the national flag.

Anatoly Krutko, 78, a World War II infantryman, praised the parade and said he was pleased with the attention Russia was getting from the visiting world leaders. "It's important -- very important -- how they treat this anniversary," he said, sitting on the edge of a fountain at Victory Park. "It's important that all these countries are paying attention to the contribution of the Soviet Union to the victory."

Pavel Zverev, 80, said the state should have done more to demonstrate Russia's military might, as it did in Soviet-era Victory Day parades. "There should have been tanks, missile launchers and other war machinery on Red Square. Foreigners should see and understand that Russia's place in the world is among the first," he said, raising an index finger for emphasis.

But Leonid Sukhovsky, 80, a former paratrooper, said he was impressed with the soldiers who participated in the parade. "I felt that those young men were fit, healthy and disciplined," he said at Gorky Park. "I don't believe all those things when they say that the Army is so-so and weak."

Only a select few could attend the Red Square celebrations after tens of thousands of policemen and troops sealed off the city's center for fear of a possible terrorist attack by Chechen rebels.

At a gathering of war veterans on Teatralnaya Ploshchad near the Bolshoi Theater, Boris Kardashenko, 81, complained about the hassle of getting through police cordons, saying this was the highest security he has seen in the 57 Victory Day anniversaries that he has celebrated on the square. "I haven't been able to get over it yet!" he exclaimed.

Police earlier advised residents to watch the parade on state television at home and celebrate the holiday at parks outside the city center. Tens of thousands of people turned out at the city's main parks.

After the Red Square parade, dignitaries silently walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beside the Kremlin wall. Soldiers placed a gigantic garland of red roses along the side of the monument, and then Putin laid two carnations at the tomb and knelt for a moment. Other dignitaries, with their heads bowed, also laid flowers and slowly walked past the tomb to form a silent row.

The crowd then moved to the Grand Kremlin Hall, where heads of state and war veterans mingled at a reception.

Dignitaries rejoined Putin on Red Square at 8 p.m. for a minute of silence to commemorate the dead. Afterward, performers put on a show dramatizing the battles of Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk, the liberation of Europe, and other milestones of the war. At one point, a huge screen on the square showed war footage while actresses in white dresses watched men dressed as Red Army soldiers marching on the cobblestones as if they were leaving for war in 1941. Thirty volleys of fireworks completed the show at 10 p.m.

A total of 11.1 million Russians took part in festivities across the country Monday, the Interior Ministry said.