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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Targets Estonia At Parade

President Vladimir Putin took a swipe at Estonia in an unusually politicized Victory Day speech Wednesday at the Red Square parade.

Addressing around 7,000 troops and a few hundred guests on a cold, drizzly morning, Putin congratulated Russians on the 62nd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany and called May 9 a holiday of "enormous moral significance and unifying force."

Then, in remarks evidently aimed at Estonia, Putin said disrespecting monuments sours relations between nations.

"Those who today are trying to belittle the invaluable experience, who desecrate monuments to war heroes, offend their own people and sow discord and new distrust between states and people," Putin told the gathering from a podium next to the Lenin Mausoleum.

Putin did not name any names, but his remarks were clearly aimed at Russia's small Baltic neighbor, which last month removed a monument to fallen Red Army soldiers in central Tallinn, sparking riots by ethnic Russians and angering Russia.

His remarks were uncharacteristically sharp and politicized for the country's most revered holiday, where speeches are generally confined to praise for veterans and appeals to the young to remember the sacrifices of their elders.

Putin's speech also echoed hawkish remarks he made at a security conference in Munich earlier this year, warning of new challenges that, like the bygone threats from Nazi Germany, are based upon a "disdain for human life, on the same claims for global pre-eminence and dictate."

At the Munich conference, Putin delivered a scathing criticism of the United States, accusing it of unilateralism.

"I am convinced that only common responsibility and full-fledged partnership can counter these challenges," he said Wednesday.

EU officials Wednesday reiterated their support for Estonia in the monument controversy.

EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU was "in solidarity" with Estonia, while Hans-Gert P?ettering, president of the European Parliament, said, "We stand side by side with Estonia because it belongs to the European family."

The Red Square parade, which was subdued compared with the grandeur of the 60th anniversary of Victory Day two years ago, lasted one hour. Putin was the only head of state present.

Standing in gray ZiL cabriolets, Vladimir Bakin, commander of the Moscow Military District, led the parade, while Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov inspected the 7,000 troops.

It was the first Victory Day parade as defense minister for Serdyukov, a former furniture-store manager who worked his way up to become head of the Federal Tax Service before being named to replace Sergei Ivanov in February.

After the inspection, several soldiers carried a Russian tricolor and the Victory Banner, featuring the Communist hammer and sickle. A few hundred guests, including dozens of decorated war veterans who were seated in the viewing stands near the Kremlin, stood up. Putin and other dignitaries were seated at a separate stand near the Lenin Mausoleum.

The guests stood once again when the troops on the square sang the national anthem a cappella. Several uniformed foreign representatives among the guests saluted.

As the orchestra struck up a triumphant march, the parade started with a procession of cadet drummers and standard bearers wearing the Soviet-era uniform and marching across the cobblestone square. They were followed by tight formations of soldiers with insignias of different military units that fought in the war. Tank crews wearing padded headsets and map holders were followed by infantrymen and sailors, among others.

Toward the end of the parade, nine fighter jets roared overhead, flying in rhombus formation.

Dozens of war veterans were among the guests, and after the parade they, as always, were the center of attention. Some people asked permission to have their pictures taken with them, and Moscow's usually surly police saluted and congratulated them.

Mikhail Kolomiyets, an 89-year-old veteran with a chest full of gleaming medals, called Victory Day a bittersweet holiday.

"Time passes but this is dear to everybody," said Kolomiyets, who, at the age of 24, commanded a regiment of Katyusha multiple rocket launchers.

Wearing a black marine beret, Alexei Stepanov, 84, said he was among the 28,000 soldiers who marched across Red Square before going to the front in 1941. Just 97 soldiers from the 1941 march are still alive, Stepanov said.

Stepanov along with other veterans went to a reception in the Kremlin hosted by Putin following the parade. Those who were not invited scurried home out of the cold.

Meanwhile, Communists, along with members of the Red Youth Vanguard and other opposition groups, marched from Belorussky Station down Tverskaya Ulitsa and on to Lubyanskaya Ploshchad to celebrate the holiday.

Red Youth Vanguard activists jeered the government as they passed the State Duma.

"I am certain that a sickle, a hammer and a star ... will unite us for new victories," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the crowd.

Some 10,000 activists participated in the march, RIA-Novosti reported. Nobody was detained.