Soldiers from four NATO countries, including the US, joined about 10,000 Russian troops for a massive military parade across Red Square on Sunday to mark the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
This year's Red Square parade was the first time foreigners have ever taken part in the march, an annual red banner and hammer-and-sickle festooned event that continues to evoke powerful emotions in the former USSR, which lost 27-million people in World War II.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and about two dozen other high-level foreign guests watched the parade from the same granite viewing stands, next the mausoleum of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, formerly occupied by Communist leaders.
This year's parade was the most elaborate since the collapse of the Soviet Union almost twenty years ago, featuring almost 200 tanks – including vintage wartime vehicles – mobile howitzers, anti-aircraft rockets, and giant intercontinental missiles rumbling across Red Square's pink cobblestones, and followed by a thundering flyover by 150 modern warplanes and helicopters.
During the cold war, military parades were closely watched by Western intelligence agencies because they often were employed as a showcase for new weaponry.
The Kremlin didn't disappoint this year, rolling out six recently-developed hardware systems: the Pantsir-S1 and Buratino anti-aircraft rockets, the Topol-M intercontinental missile, and the Yak-130 air trainer.
Military experts show particular interest in two new attack helicopters that were displayed in public for the first time, the Mi-28 – Russia's answer to the Apache – and the exciting new Ka-52 gunship.
Despite the sovietesque atmospherics, the main political theme of the event was historic reconciliation between Russia and its former cold war foes.
Medvedev: Peace is 'still fragile'
"Today, at the military parade, soldiers of Russia, of countries of the former Soviet Union, and of the Allied powers march together, in one column, which is evidence of our common readiness to defend peace," Mr. Medvedev said in a Red Square address.
"Peace is still fragile and it is our duty to remember that wars do not start in an instant," he said. "It is only together that we shall be able to counter modern threats."
Communist and nationalist politicians had denounced the invitation to NATO troops to take part in the parade, but a poll last week by the independent Levada Center in Moscow found that less than a third of Russians agreed with them, while 55 percent viewed the participation of the wartime allies favorably.
Another controversy swirled around a decision by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to include portraits of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who led the country through World War II, among the publicity materials for the Victory Day celebration.
The Russian government rescinded that decision, and no pictures of Mr. Stalin were visible around Red Square on Sunday, but the furore illustrates the ongoing sensitivity of many unresolved Soviet-era historical disputes in Russia.
The Voice of America quoted the commander of the participating American unit, Capt. Matthew Strand, as saying that the experience of marching in Russia's Victory Parade raised the level of camaraderie between NATO participants and their Russian counterparts.
Captain Strand told the VOA that his 90-year-old grandfather was a US pilot during the war.
"Every time my grandpa meets a veteran from World War II, even if he doesn't know him, the second he meets him, they automatically have something in common," Strand said. "And just by me having a grandfather that was in it, I have something in common with the veterans I meet here in Russia."