Thousands of Russian troops have marched in Red Square to mark 69 years since victory in World War II in a show of military might amid tensions in Ukraine following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
More than 11,000 servicemen took part in the annual Victory Day parade which began with the massed troops marching to the sound of brass bands as President Vladimir Putin watched from the stands, flanked by veterans.
Putin praised the strength of Russia’s “all-conquering” patriotism in his speech to the veterans and troops.
“This is a holiday when all-conquering patriotic force triumphs, when we all feel especially strongly what it means to be true to the Motherland and how important it is to be able to stand up for its interests,” Putin said to shouts of “Hurrah!”
The parade took on particular significance as Russia is locked in a standoff with the West over its support for separatists in Ukraine and following its annexation of Crimea where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in Sevastopol.
Putin was reportedly to fly directly from Moscow to take part in celebrations in Sevastopol, liberated from the Nazis 70 years ago, although this was not confirmed by the Kremlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it would be a “pity” if Putin were to “use” the commemorations to make his first visit to Crimea since annexation.
The parade began with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu standing up in a specially designed car to inspect the massed troops, including marines from the Black Sea fleet based in Crimea, followed by a display of military hardware.
The Moscow parade put on view around 150 items of military hardware including for the first time new Tor-M2U air defence missile system, the powerful Chrysanthemum-S anti-tank missile system and Typhoon armoured vehicles.
A total of 69 aircraft were to zoom 200 metres above Moscow rooftops including Tupolev TU-160 bomber jets.
Russia and other ex-Soviet countries mark Nazi surrender a day later than Western countries celebrated VE Day due to the time difference.
The Soviet Union lost an estimated 30 million people during World War II.
Russia has accused the new Kiev leadership of support for a wartime guerilla fighter who collaborated with the Nazis, Stepan Bandera, and regularly refers to pro-Russian separatists as fighting “neo-Nazis” and “fascists.”
“In Europe, militant nationalism is rearing its head again, the same that led to the appearance of Nazi ideology,” Putin warned on Thursday in a speech to leaders of other ex-Soviet states.