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Russia May Begin Marking Victory Over Japan

Russia may soon join the United States observing a second day marking the Axis defeat in World War II: Victory Over Japan Day. The decision could raise eyebrows in Washington as well as Japan because of the Soviet Union's controversial role during the war in the Pacific.

It would come as Russia's annual celebration of Victory (in Europe) Day on May 9 -- marking the Nazi capitulation to the USSR in 1945 -- has been growing in pomp, size and publicity. Moscow sees its role in what it calls the Great Patriotic War as one of the crowning achievements of Soviet rule. Preparations for May 9 celebrations go on for weeks: posters and flags go up around the country and ribbons are affixed to every second car antennae. Two years ago, the Kremlin revived the Soviet-era practice of rolling missiles and tanks across Red Square during the main parade. This year's decision to include images of dictator Josef Stalin on reproductions of Soviet-era posters around Moscow generated fresh controversy until it was recently rescinded.

Although many veterans and historians say Stalin's terror, especially his devastating purges of the military leadership, crippled the Soviet war machine, today the generalissimo's reputation of a persevering supreme commander is widely raised to argue that the man responsible for millions of deaths was actually an "effective manager."

There can be no argument Stalin was effective at expanding Moscow's control over foreign territory. During the war, Stalin promised Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt the USSR would enter the campaign against Japan after Hitler's defeat. Under pressure from his allies at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, he specified Soviet forces would begin fighting within three months of the victory in Europe. Germany surrendered on May 8; Stalin's invasion of Manchuria began precisely three months later on August 9.

It was the same day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Hiroshima had already been bombed on August 6. Japan surrendered to the Allied forces less than a month later on September 2. In that time, the Red Army invaded the Japanese-controlled southern part of Sakhalin Island and took over four Kuril Islands -- called Northern Territories by Japan, which still claims sovereignty in a bitter dispute that's prevented Moscow and Tokyo from signing a formal treaty ending hostilities to this day.

Now "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reports that lawmakers from Sakhalin, with apparent support from the Kremlin, have persevered in initiating legislation to mark September 2 or 3 as the day commemorating the end of the war. It's widely expected to pass parliament and be signed into law.

--Gregory Feifer

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