Moscow's V E Day with Leaders all over the world


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Russia marks wartime victory, papers over tensions

By Oliver Bullough
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Monday marked World War II victory with Red Square pageantry in front of world leaders, trumpeting its huge wartime role but masking tensions in post-war ties with its neighbors.

World leaders who included President Bush and China's Hu Jintao, then shifted into high diplomacy, holding a series of informal meetings that touched on issues such as terrorism, North Korea and the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stood shoulder to shoulder with Bush as troops and war veterans marched and drove across the cobbled Red Square, once the scene of Cold War displays of Soviet military might, to the strains of martial music.

For Putin the ceremony was a rare high point after a period marked by faltering ties with Washington and ex-Soviet allies.

"Grief came to every home, every family," he said, declaring that the world owed "great human thanks" to the nearly 27 million Soviet citizens who died.

Russian security forces sealed off the Kremlin area and Red Square to celebrating Muscovites for fear of a repeat of the Chechen rebels attacks that have marked past May 9 celebrations.

World leaders -- with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi representing the vanquished nations -- laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the foot of the towering Kremlin walls.

"I would like to congratulate you for holding an extraordinarily dignified ceremony of remembrance," Schroeder told Putin.

Bush and others stood on a tribune in front of the marble mausoleum, hidden for the occasion behind a huge display, that holds the mummified body of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin. It was atop this tomb that dictator Josef Stalin greeted victorious Soviet troops 60 years ago.

Putin shook hands warmly with Bush whom he entertained on Sunday night at his country retreat west of Moscow, showing no sign of the strains that have followed Washington's charges that democracy is ailing in Russia.

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Political Leaders all across the continent have arrived to attend the ceremony and I'm quite impressed. It appears that Russia will play a much big role in the 21st Century than anticipated in terms of Strategic and Economic Means.