Victory Day celebrations kicked off in Moscow with 7,000 soldiers goose-stepping across Red Square to the sounds of a military band and fighter jets flying overhead.
President Putin, addressing the crowd from a podium in front of Lenin's mausoleum, hailed the holiday as one of "huge moral importance and unifying power."
"Victory Day brings together not only Russia's citizens, but also our closest neighbors in countries of the Commonwealth [of Independent States]. All of us are deeply grateful to the generation who carried the heavy burden of war."
Commemorations Across CIS
Victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 was achieved at great cost, resulting in the death of more than 25 million Soviet soldiers and civilians.
Belarus also held a Victory Day parade (bymedia.net)
The victory is celebrated throughout Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States on May 9 -- one day after Victory Day celebrations in Western Europe.
In Kyiv, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told surviving World War II fighters that official combat veteran status should be extended to all Ukrainians who fought at the time -- including members of the Ukrainian National Army, which battled both the Soviet Army and Nazi forces.
"The time has to come for us to say to one another in a frank and brotherly way that everyone who fought for Ukraine deserves eternal respect and gratitude," Yushchenko said. "Therefore, I'm confident that work aimed at regulating the legal status of all those who fought for Ukraine and its independence in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s will be finally completed."
Those who desecrate memorials to war heroes "are insulting their own people, sowing discord and new distrust between countries." - Putin
In Bishkek, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev offered congratulations and cash bonuses to those who fought in the war. And Kazakhs prepared to mark the occasion with celebratory fireworks displays in Almaty and Astana.
Statue Relocation Sparked Violent Protests
Back in Moscow, efforts to disperse rain clouds couldn't prevent the storm of controversy that erupted after a Soviet war memorial was removed from the center of Estonia's capital last month.
The removal of the Bronze Soldier statue in late April sparked riots that left one Russian national dead and more than 150 people injured.
Without mentioning the Baltic state by name, Putin stressed the importance of preserving the honor of the Soviet war effort.
Putin with young cadets during the May 9 Victory Day parade (epa)
"Those who are trying today to belittle this invaluable experience and desecrate memorials to war heroes are insulting their own people, sowing discord and new distrust between countries and people," he said.
Putin also noted the efforts of the Western allies, saying: "We won't forget their contribution to the defeat of the Nazis."
(with agency material)