MOSCOW — Standing under a pricey blue sky in Red Square on Thursday morning, President Vladimir Putin sounded rousing themes of suffering, perseverance and Russian greatness as the nation celebrated its most glorious holiday — victory over Nazi Germany 68 years ago.
Putin’s message echoed in the hurrahs of 11,000 service members and cadets who marched across the cobblestones outside the Kremlin in the annual Victory Day parade, followed by scores of tanks, howitzers and missile launchers that scented the air with their exhaust.
Unlike last year, when rain poured down until shortly before the parade, the sun shone magnificently, thanks to the Moscow government, which allocated $4 million to seed clouds and prevent rain Thursday and on another holiday, in June.
The veterans of what Russians call the Great Patriotic War walked more stiffly than they did last year, and their numbers were fewer, but the parade offered a show of might and resolve that was more resonant than ever.
Putin, who returned to the presidency a year ago, has spent recent months methodically subduing the opposition that arose on the streets in December 2011. Last year, after the last of the tanks had rumbled off the square, demonstrators emerged on the city streets to protest Putin’s presidency. This year, the parade was followed instead by denial-of-service attacks on liberal media, including Ekho Moskvy radio and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Pro-Putin vigilantes asserted responsibility.
The parade began as the clock in the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower tolled 10. A deep voice boomed over the loudspeakers and on televisions across this vast country: “Moscow is speaking.” A thousand musicians struck up “The Sacred War,” the anthem that accompanied millions of Soviet soldiers into battle during World War II.
Although Putin supporters and opponents differ on most issues, they come together in their reverence for veterans of the war. About 26 million Soviets died, more than 8 million of them troops, and the long-ago wounds are felt even today. Many veterans came to the celebration on the arm of a proud grandchild, and they held flowers that young people had respectfully pressed upon them.
“Sixty-eight years have passed since the end of the Great Patriotic War, but the memory of the war does not fade. It passes on from generation to generation, from parents to children, from heart to heart,” Putin said. “The might behind this righteous unity is love for Russia, our home, our relatives and our family. These values bring us together today. Our entire nation fought valiantly to defend them.”
Never, he said, would the nation forget that it was the Soviet Union that prevented the Nazis from taking over the world.
Even though budgets are tighter, the parade was larger than in recent years, with huge cargo planes and fighters swooping overhead, followed by jets trailing exhaust in white, blue and red, the colors of the Russian flag.
When the Kremlin clock struck 11, Putin congratulated a row of officers, and the stands began to empty. Ninety-year-old Alexander Fomenko, medals on his chest, stood for a moment in the square and thought back 68 years.
“It was four long years,” he said. “I was always on the front. We were fighting, all of us, for the people.”
The parade made him proud, he said, but it didn’t mean that the long struggle for a good life was finished.
“Today we hope for better,” he said. “We still hope for better.”