MOSCOW (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin on Sunday (May 9) promised that Russia would "firmly" defend national interests, and denounced the return of "Russophobia", as the country marked the 76th anniversary of victory in World War II.
"Russia consistently defends international law. At the same time, we will firmly defend our national interests to ensure the safety of our people," Mr Putin told thousands of military personnel and veterans gathered in Moscow's Red Square.
He also denounced what he called a creeping return of ideologies of the time, when "slogans of racial and national superiority, of anti-semitism and Russophobia, became ever more cynical".
Mr Putin's speech came at the start of an annual parade that sees military hardware roll through the streets of Moscow.
The state-run RIA Novosti agency reported that more than 12,000 military personnel would take part in Sunday's parade in the Russian capital, as well as some 190 pieces of military equipment and 76 fighter jets and helicopters.
Victory Day parades, which became an annual event only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, also took place on Sunday in dozens of cities across the nation.
The public holiday is central to the Russian calendar, with a survey last week by state-run pollster VTsIOM showing that 69 per cent of Russians view it as the country's most important.
A third of respondents told VTsIOM they would take part in the celebrations, while a fifth said they would watch on television.
During Mr Putin's two decades in power, the holiday has taken on increasing importance in projecting Russia's renewed military might.
"The Soviet people kept their sacred oath, defended the homeland and freed the countries of Europe from the black plague," the Russian leader said on Sunday.