- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin spurned calls by Baltic nations for atonement for five decades of Soviet occupation yesterday and defiantly hailed the Red Army as the liberator, not the oppressor, of Eastern Europe.

The three Baltic States, backed by the European Union, have sparked anger in Russia on the eve of lavish Moscow celebrations to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany by saying the Allied victory marked the beginning of subjugation by Soviet occupiers.

?Our people not only defended their homeland, they liberated 11 European countries,? Mr. Putin said, after laying a wreath at a monument to Russia’s war dead.

Mr. Putin opened two monuments at a memorial park on Moscow’s outskirts as special forces imposed a tight security cordon around Red Square and the Kremlin — the focal point of 60th anniversary festivities that President Bush and other world leaders will attend.

The biggest potential security threat is from Chechen separatist rebels, who have attacked victory celebrations in the past.

?The Nazi war machine was broken on a battlefield from the Barents Sea to the Caucasus. Here were the main Nazi forces, and here the fascists suffered their main losses,? Mr. Putin said.

?The world has never known such heroism,? he said, tapping a vein of rising patriotic feeling among Russians ahead of tomorrow’s Red Square military parade.

On a side street off Red Square yesterday, officers were taking the covers off five T-80 battle tanks that were due to be rolled out in the parade. Riot police were out in force patrolling streets festooned with banners proclaiming the 1945 victory.

The Soviet Union’s key role in smashing Nazi Germany, with a loss of nearly 27 million dead, is a huge source of pride in Russia. Statements by European leaders that its victory merely ushered in fresh repression for Eastern Europe have met with anger in Moscow.

Leaders of the Baltic States of Estonia and Lithuania are boycotting the party, saying victory brought them only Soviet occupation. The leader of another ex-Soviet state, Georgia, is also staying away because of a row over Russian bases.

In a heavily symbolic move, Mr. Bush was visiting the third Baltic country, Latvia, yesterday and paid tribute to its love of freedom. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, in a newspaper article, urged Moscow to express ?genuine regret for the crimes of the Soviet regime.?

The tight security brought an eerie calm to central Moscow, more often the scene of traffic jams. Pedestrians strolled down streets normally crammed with bumper-to-bumper vehicles. City authorities have brought in thousands of officers from other regions to swell police numbers to 30,000.

The local press reported that police were checking trucks coming into Moscow, trying to prevent rebel raids such as an attack in October 2002, when a group of Chechens seized a Moscow theater in an onslaught that left 129 hostages dead.

Chechen rebels fighting Russian rule in their southern homeland have targeted Victory Day celebrations in past years. They killed the region’s pro-Moscow leader when they bombed a parade in the Chechen capital, Grozny, last May 9.

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