Today is Victory Day in Russia, the holiday when the country pauses to remember the Russian victory over Nazi Germany. Historians estimate that between 1941 and 1945 the Soviet Union lost 8.5 million soldiers killed, wounded or missing in action, and more than 12 million Soviet citizens died from starvation, deportation, and mistreatment.
To put Russia's staggering losses between 1941-45 in perspective for Americans, the equivalent would have been for America to lose New York to a three year siege, to have forcibly evacuated millions of people beyond the Rocky Mountains, followed by the loss of nearly every city east of the Mississippi to the enemy, until the American army finally stopped the invaders at the decisive battle of St. Louis.
UPDATE - 05/20/2007: Russians in Bellevue, Washington commemorated Victory Day. You can read more about it here.
Click on the extended post to read more.
President Putin and President Bush stand for the Russian national anthem, May 9, 2005
News report on Victory Day 2007 preparations featuring a flyby by Sukhoi 27 jets
Parade in 8 minutes with the jets flyby above the Red Square
President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov were all on hand today with many other top officials for the victory parade through Red Square. Unlike the old Soviet military parades, this year's event did not feature tanks, but did include flybys by the Russian Air Force. Several officials from foreign governments observed the celebrations, including a general from the Indian military, but not many heads of state turned out for the holiday. In 2005 President Bush and many leaders from Europe (including then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder) celebrated the 60th anniversary of VE Day in Moscow.
This year's celebrations were preceded by a bitter diplomatic feud between Russia and Estonia over Talinn's plans to move a Red Army victory monument from its current prominent positon to a military cemetary in the capital of the Baltic republic. Whatever one thinks of the angry protests outside the Estonian embassy in Moscow, this episode has revealed that Russians are still very proud of the sacrifices their own "Greatest Generation" made to crush Nazi Germany.
Russians view their parents and grandparents, old men and women who were mostly teenagers during the war, as heroes who helped liberate Europe from the Nazi yoke; many Estonians view them as ordinary people who either willingly or unwillingly served Josef Stalin's monstrous regime.
In 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin joined with Polish President Lech Walesa to commemorate the victims of the Katyn massacre and apologized for atrocities committed by Stalin's henchmen during World War II against Poland and Eastern Europe.
Putin answering a question from an Estonian journalist
Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin, was asked by an Estonian journalist in 2005 why he had not apologized for the Hitler-Stalin Pact. An annoyed President Putin replied:
You speak Russian so well that I am certain you can read in Russian as well. Please, read the resolution of the Congress of the People's Deputies [from 1989] where it is written in black and white: "The Congress of the People's Deputies is denouncing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and regards it as legally invalid. It did not reflect the opinion of the Soviet people and was a personal matter of Stalin and Hitler"...we should not allow the dead to grab us by our sleeves, preventing us from moving ahead.
Links to previous Russia Blog posts on Russia's role in winning World War II: