U.S. troops march in Moscow in salute to Allies’ role in WWII

U.S. troops marched through Red Square for the first time in a Victory Day parade on Sunday as Russia celebrated the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Russian Victory Day: An article in Monday’s Section A, and a photo caption on Page A1, described the participation of U.S. soldiers in the Russian celebration of the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. The references should have specified it was the end of the European phase of the war in May 1945. V-J Day, signifying the end of the war and the Allied forces’ victory over Japan, did not come until Aug. 15 of that year. —

It was a scene cut from Russia’s Cold War nightmares: 71 Americans in dark blue dress uniforms carried the U.S. flag over the cobblestones, past the mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin and the towers of the Kremlin wall to salute Russian leaders.

French, British and Polish soldiers also took part in the parade in a tribute to the role the Allies played in what Russia called the Great Patriotic War. Under clear skies, the reviewing stands were packed with Russian officials, foreign dignitaries and hundreds of aging war veterans.

“In 1945, not only a military but also a great moral victory was achieved, a common victory,” President Dmitry Medvedev told the crowd. Soldiers of various countries marching Sunday in a single formation “is evidence of our common readiness to defend peace, not to allow the revision of the outcomes of war and new tragedies.”

But in the weeks leading up to the parade, the inclusion of foreign soldiers sparked controversy in some corners of Russian politics.

Author Alexander Prokhanov, editor in chief of the nationalist Zavtra daily, called the appearance of U.S. servicemen in Red Square a national humiliation.

“The fact that American troops are trampling underfoot the cobblestones of Red Square is a huge shame and humiliation for Russia,” Prokhanov said. “Thus they are celebrating their final victory not in World War II but in the Cold War.”

Many Russians have long resented what they see as the West’s tendency to minimize Russia’s role in the allied victory over Nazi Germany. By most counts, more than 20 million Russian soldiers and civilians were killed during the conflict, the greatest toll suffered by any single nation.

Despite the mutterings, the visiting U.S. soldiers were feted by the government. Last week, they were presented with medals during a ceremony at the Military University of the Russian Defense Ministry.

“It is a great honor for me to take part in the parade and represent America,” said Pfc. Michael Hagen, 20, from Atlanta, whose grandfather fought in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy.

“He would have been very, very proud of me,” Hagen said. “Taking part in this parade symbolizes a lot for me as it is a show of great respect for my grandfather and other veterans.”

Relations between Russia and the United States have been steadily warming after reaching a low under the George W. Bush administration. The two countries have toned down criticism of each another and have been working together to cut their respective nuclear stockpiles.

In his speech Sunday, Medvedev strove to create an atmosphere of cooperation.

“Only together can we counteract modern threats,” he said. “Only based on the principles of good-neighborliness can we resolve issues of global security so that ideals of justice and of the good can triumph in the whole world.”

Thousands of Russians jammed the streets around Red Square to catch a glimpse of the troops as they marched toward the Kremlin.

“Americans in Red Square is so cool,” said Anna Gurevich, 22, a Moscow student. “It’s just too bad they didn’t come here to see the people [on the street]. It would be great to see them and not just on television.”

Times staff writer Megan K. Stack in Istanbul, Turkey, contributed to this report.