Nuclear missiles and tanks paraded yesterday across Red Square for the first time since the Soviet era but new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned other nations against “irresponsible ambitions” that he said could start wars.
Marching bands and 8,000 troops goose-stepped across the square, followed by a huge display of heavy weapons, including Topol-M ballistic missiles and T-90 tanks, and a fly-by of warplanes.
Reviewing his first parade as commander-in-chief, Medvedev warned against “irresponsible ambitions” that he said could spark war across entire continents.
In an apparent attack on US foreign policy and Western backing for Kosovo’s independence, Medvedev also criticized “intentions to intrude in the affairs of other states and especially redraw borders.”
Alongside the new president was his mentor and now prime minister, Vladimir Putin, standing under bright sunshine in a tribune in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum, the Soviet holy of holies that was screened off by a giant hoarding inscribed with May 9, 1945.
The show of strength on the 63rd anniversary of victory against Nazi Germany symbolized Moscow’s growing boldness following eight years of rule by Putin, whose hawkish policies have set Russia at loggerheads with Western capitals.
Medvedev, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, is a close ally of Putin and had been his aide for much of the last two decades.
Many analysts believe that Medvedev, 42, will be a weak president reliant on the support of Putin, 55, who on Thursday became prime minister. Other observers say the untested Medvedev will grow into the presidency, which carries huge powers in Russia — as symbolized by the Red Square parade.
Earlier Putin said the parade was not “saber-rattling” but “a demonstration of our growing defense capability.”
The commemoration came after Washington on Thursday said Moscow had expelled two of its diplomats. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday dismissed the move as “just the usual tit for tat” in response to Washington’s expulsion of a Russian spy.
On Tuesday Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell poured scorn on the Moscow parade
“If they wish to take out their old equipment and take it for a spin, and check it out, they’re more than welcome to do so,” he said.
Tensions with the US have been particularly high over Russia’s pro-Western neighbor Georgia, which has received US backing for its bid to join the NATO military alliance.
On Thursday Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said his country and Russia had come close to war “several days ago” after Russia ramped up support for separatists controlling Georgia’s Abkhazia region.
But on the streets of Moscow, the atmosphere was festive for one of the country’s best-loved holidays.
Amid reruns of World War II films, TV stations showed parading soldiers goose-stepping in cities across the country.
Veterans were shown with chests loaded down with medals, while some young soldiers were dressed in World War II uniforms, complete with old-fashioned rifles and red stars on their helmets.
The occasion reflects the trauma of World War II in which millions of Soviet citizens died before driving back the Nazis, but also a large measure of Soviet-style propaganda which airbrushed dark aspects of the story — not least Stalin’s massive wartime repressions.
The reappearance of massive weapons in the capital after a break of 18 years required extraordinary preparations.