Russia marked the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II on Sunday with the largest-ever post-Soviet military parade in Moscow. It was also the first time that NATO forces participated.
Foreign troops from four NATO member states marched on Moscow's Red Square for the first time on Sunday as part of a parade marking the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Around 1,000 troops from Britain, France, Poland and the United States took part in the military parade, alongside some 10,000 members of the Russian army and soldiers from ex-Soviet countries Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.
"Sixty-five years ago, Nazism was defeated and a machine that was exterminating whole peoples was halted," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in his speech. "There was one choice – either victory or to become slaves. The war made us a strong nation."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Moscow on Saturday to take part in the commemoration, joining Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao and around two dozen other world leaders at the military parade.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pulled out of the event to instead concentrate on the European financial crisis.
In an interview with the Russian Itar-Tass news agency, Merkel said the invitation to the victory celebration was a great honor.
She said the gesture showed that Russia and Germany had learned from history and could live in peace and friendship.
In 2005, Gerhard Schroeder became the first German chancellor to be invited to the Red Square victory celebration.
Russia's Communists, the country's biggest opposition party, were planning to hold a protest march in central Moscow after the parade.
They were angry that NATO troops had been given permission to march on the square, home to the embalmed body of their revolutionary hero, Vladimir Lenin.
"Foreign troops have never appeared on Red Square. It's a violation of tradition," said Sergei Obukhov, a member of the party's Central Committee.
"The presence of foreign troops with weapons in their hands is...an unnecessary reminder that we lost the Cold War."
The celebrations were overshadowed by two methane gas explosions at a coal mine in the Siberian region of Kemerova, which hours earlier killed at least 12 people, injured dozens and trapped more than 80 miners and rescuers.
The first explosion occurred late Saturday night, with the second following a few hours later as a rescue operation was underway. Renewed rescue operations continue, but the high concentration of methane gas poses a risk of further explosions.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described the situation as "difficult" and "tragic" and urged authorities to do everything possible to rescue those still trapped underground.
Editor: Kyle James
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