Bush, Putin Mark a Shared Victory
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
MOSCOW, May 9 -- The goose-stepping troops hoisted hammer-and-sickle banners bearing the visages of the Soviet icon Vladimir Lenin. Gray-haired veterans waved red flowers from truckbeds, their chests brimming with medals and ribbons, their faces etched with the wear and tear of hard lives. The boom of artillery fire thundered across the air and jets roared overhead.
What Russians had never seen at a Victory Day celebration on Red Square until now, however, was an American president.
In the shadow of the Kremlin walls near Lenin's tomb, George W. Bush joined Russian President Vladimir Putin and their counterparts from France, Germany, Japan, China, Italy and dozens of other nations for a Soviet-style display of military might to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazi empire. On the same stand where Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev reviewed troops trained to fight American GIs, Bush paid tribute to the unparalleled sacrifice of the Russian people during World War II.
He and Putin put aside their recently vocal differences on the historical interpretation of the war's aftermath for an interlude of international solidarity in what could be the last major commemoration of the war featuring the presence of men who fought it. The echoes of Cold War rivalry that were heard across the continent in recent days gave way to pledges to reunite against the modern-day enemy, terrorism.
"History teaches us that states and peoples must do everything possible to prevent their eyes closing to the emergence of new lethal doctrines, to anything that can become fertile soil for new threats," Putin said in a short speech before the parade. "The lessons of the war send us the warning that indifference, temporizing and playing accomplice to violence inevitably lead to terrible tragedies on a planetary scale."
For Bush, it was a rare moment of ceding the limelight. He spent the day in Moscow without uttering a single word in public, then left for the next stop on his trip, the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Left unspoken were the disagreements over the legacy of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe following World War II. Bush stopped in the Baltic state of Latvia en route to Moscow to acknowledge that many millions of Europeans traded one tyranny for another in 1945. But Putin bristled at that maneuver and rejected U.S. suggestions that he renounce the Soviet occupation of the Baltics.
If Bush felt unease on the reviewing stand during tributes to the Red Army, he did not show it. President Bill Clinton came to Moscow for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1995 but boycotted the Red Square parade in protest of Russia's offensive in Chechnya. Bush decided to attend in a gesture to Putin despite recent tension over the course of Russian democracy, White House officials said. And perhaps in deference to Western sensibilities, Lenin's tomb, where the embalmed body of the founder of the Soviet Union remains on view, was discreetly shrouded by a large screen.
Away from the parade, however, Bush found a way to show support for Russians who are struggling against Putin's consolidation of power.
At his Moscow hotel, the president met privately with 18 representatives of media and advocacy groups, and gave three of them a few minutes to address him directly.
Ludmilla Alexeyeva, co-founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights organization, expressed her concerns about Russian democracy and cited the Kremlin's attack on Yukos Oil Co. and its shareholders.
The meeting heartened her and other attendees. "It was important," Alexeyeva said afterward, "because it was a sign to our authorities that the attitude of the United States, at the very top, is supportive" of groups like hers.