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Western troops observe Victory Day against Hitler’s coalition

UNITED States (U.S.), French and British troops yesterday strode across Red Square for the first time 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.

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, according to the Associated Press (AP) 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 television news reports for the past week.

The U.S., British and French troops each marched in units of about 75. Squads from Poland and Turkmenistan also took part. Parades and other celebrations also took place throughout the country.

But amid the nationwide assertions of strength and pride were violent reminders of the unrest that plagues Russia’s Caucasus republics.

Two explosions tore through Russia’s largest underground coal mine, killing at least 11 workers and injuring 41 others. A further 84 people remained trapped in the mine, including rescue workers.

Unseen beyond the grazing Holsteins and rolling pastures of eastern Belgium, the 12-foot-long tapered metal cylinders sit in their underground vaults, waiting for the doomsday call that never came. Each packs the power of many Hiroshimas.

America’s oldest nuclear weapons, unwanted, outdated, a legacy of the 20th century, are now the focus of a political struggle that could shake the NATO alliance in the 21st.

The questions hanging over the B-61 bombs, an estimated 200 of them on six air bases across Europe, relate not just to why they’re still here, but to how safe and secure they are.

The U.S. allies must all replace their aging warplanes in the coming years, and making the new jets nuclear-capable would incur huge additional costs. Germany, whose Tornados must be replaced earliest, will have to decide soon whether to spend an estimated 300 million euros (US $400 million) to extend this questionable nuclear operation. Berlin’s Bundestag is unlikely to vote those funds, NATO insiders said.



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