MOSCOW • President Vladimir Putin vowed to ensure Russia's military strength as the country yesterday marked World War II Victory Day, an event that has become increasingly important over his two-decade rule.
Mr Putin's speech to thousands of soldiers and veterans on Red Square came at the start of an annual parade that sees military hardware, including tanks and intercontinental nuclear missile launchers, rolling through the streets of Moscow.
"The lessons of the past war are relevant once again. We have done and will do all that is necessary to guarantee the high capabilities of our armed forces," he said.
Those in the modern Russian army remember the "oath" of Soviet soldiers who fought Nazi Germany, he added: "I die, but I will not surrender."
Mr Putin asked the crowd to observe a minute's silence as the Kremlin clock chimed.
The two-day public holiday to celebrate the 1945 victory comes amid heightened tensions with the West and fears of a new Russia-US arms race.
Parades and celebrations took place across Russia, from the European exclave of Kaliningrad to Sakhalin island near Japan.
World leaders attended in the past, but were conspicuous by their absence yesterday - something the Kremlin played down.
The Kremlin said it had not invited foreign heads of state, but next year's 75th anniversary would be marked with greater pomp as a major milestone.
The authorities, backed by state media, use the annual event to boost patriotic feeling. This could help lift Mr Putin's approval rating which, though still high at 66 per cent last month, is down from nearly 90 per cent five years ago.
The display of military power is also designed to show the world and potential buyers of weapons how a modernisation programme has changed the face of the Russian military and arms industry.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE