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For the first time, Western troops march on Red Square

Russia's Victory Day, the country's most important secular holiday, was marked by an unusual emphasis on international cooperation as American, French, and British troops commemorated the the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany by marching across Red Square for the first time ever.

By Jim HeintzAssociated Press Writer / May 10, 2010

British soldiers of the 2nd Company Battalion Welsh Guards march during the Victory Day Parade at Moscow's Red Square, Sunday. Troops from the United States, Britain, and France joined the Russian armed forces for the parade for the first time.

Misha Japaridze/AP

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Moscow

U.S., French and British troops strode across Red Square for the first time Sunday in a Victory Day parade marked both by the usual impressive display of Russia's military might and by an unusual emphasis on international cooperation.

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In recent years, the parade commemorating the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany has been used by Russian leaders to launch veiled criticism of the West, but President Dmitry Medvedev struck a different tone this year.

"Today at this solemn parade, the soldiers of Russia, the states of the CIS and the anti-Hitler coalition march together," he said in his address to the more than 11,000 soldiers on the vast square. "Only together can we counter present-day threats. Only as good neighbors can we resolve problems of global security in order that the ideals of justice and good triumph in all of the world and that the lives of future generations will be free and happy."

Foreign leaders in attendance included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, China's Hu Jintao, Israeli President Shimon Peres and acting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, whose predecessor died last month in a plane crash in western Russia along with many of Poland's political and military elite.

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and France's Nicolas Sarkozy had been expected to attend, but stayed home in order to be available for possible developments in Europe's financial crisis.

Victory Day, Russia's most important secular holiday, always sees elaborate observances throughout the country, but this year's was especially intense, with holiday preparations and parade rehearsals dominating TV news reports for the past week.

Such attention appeared in part to be a tacit acknowledgment that even the youngest World War II veterans are in the last years of their lives.

Some of Medvedev's address carried that valedictory sentiment, assuring the veterans that recognition of their valor would outlive them.

"Time has great power, but it is weaker than human memory," he said. "We will never forget the soldiers fighting on the front, the women replacing men in the factories, the children undergoing suffering unthinkable for their age."

"This war made us a strong nation," Medvedev said.

The military strength was on clear view. Tanks, armored personnel carriers and lumbering Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile launchers rumbled across the square, and warplanes and helicopters streaked overhead.

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