Celebratory music rang out across central Moscow today as thousands of veterans and soldiers, and more than 50 heads of state gathered on Red Square to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov kicked off the parade -- the centerpiece of Russia's celebrations -- by congratulating the 8,000 soldiers and medal-covered veterans in attendance.
In a brief opening speech, a visibly emotional Putin paid tribute to the Soviet Union's enormous wartime sacrifice.
"Victory Day is the dearest and most sincere holiday for everyone in our country. For the peoples of the former (Soviet) Union, it will forever remain the day of a great feat accomplished by the people. And for the countries of Europe and the entire planet, it will remain the day when they world was saved," Putin said.
Putin, who was flanked by U.S. President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, described 9 May as a "sacred date" for Russians and said he "bows down" to those who fought for the Allied cause.
He also called on the world to remember those who died in the war, and to unite to prevent new wars.
"In the face of the existing threat of terrorism we should remain faithful to the memory of our fathers and should defend the world order based on security and justice, on a new culture of relations between countries that does not allow either cold or hot wars to be repeated," Putin said.
Accompanied by soldiers chanting wartime patriotic songs, medal-covered veterans then drove across Red Square in military vehicles, waving red carnations to the crowd.
Thousands of veterans in uniform observed the parade from a platform near Lenin's tomb, some of them wiping away tears.
Soldiers in modern and World War II uniforms, sappers with dogs, and infantrymen carrying Red Army flags marched across the square to the applause of world leaders.
MiG and Sukhoi jets flew overhead, leaving the blue, white, and red colors of the Russian flag hanging over Red Square, whose main landmarks were partially masked by huge placards hailing the end of World War II.
Together with veterans, the dignitaries moved to lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the foot of the Kremlin wall.
A reception is scheduled to take place later at the Kremlin, where medals will be awarded to both veterans and foreign political luminaries who fought against the Nazis.
These include Greek President Karolos Papulyas, Albanian President Alfred Moisiu, Croatian President Stipe Mesic, former Polish President Wojciech Jaruzelski, former Cypriot President Glavkos Kliridis, and former Romanian King Michael I.
A series of informal bilateral meetings are also expected to take place between heads of states throughout the day.
In the evening, foreign leaders are scheduled to meet again on Red Square, where they will observe a minute of silence to honor those who died in the war.
After an event highlighting the main events of the war, a concert and fireworks will wrap up the 9 May festivities on Red Square.
Concerts and parades will also be held in parks outside the city center, and people can assemble on the banks of the Moscow River to watch the fireworks.
The Soviet Union paid the heaviest price in World War II, losing an estimated 27 million soldiers and civilians.
The commemoration of the end of the war remains an emotional event in Russia, not only for veterans but also for younger Russians.
A majority of Russians have lost relatives in what is referred to in Russia as the Great Patriotic War.
Putin has said that more than half of his relatives died during the war, including his older brother.
As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, RFE/RL's special webpage looks at that conflict's enduring legacies in its broadcast areas.
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