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Bush marks V-E Day in Red Square

More than 50 world leaders attend Moscow ceremony

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Russians celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe.

CNN's Bill Schneider says Bush's relationship with Putin is remarkable.

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George W. Bush
Vladimir V. Putin

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- President Bush and dozens of other world leaders attended a celebration Monday in Moscow's Red Square marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Bush was given a seat of honor next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who paid tribute to the huge Soviet wartime sacrifice.

The U.S. president was among more than 50 dignitaries to attend. Others included Chinese President Hu Jintao, French President Jacques Chirac, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Welcomed as friends were the leaders of World War II's three major Axis powers: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

About 2,500 veterans from World War II were among the marchers at Red Square. Thousands of others unable to march were driven in vehicles.

The ceremony began with four goose-stepping soldiers dressed in ceremonial green and gold uniforms carrying red flags with the Soviet hammer and sickle.

The Russian president said his country would never forget the debt owed to the tens of millions of Soviet citizens who died in World War II.

"I bow low before all veterans of the Great Patriotic War," Putin said, describing May 9, 1945, as "a day of victory of good over evil."

"The Soviet Union lost over the years tens of millions of its citizens," Putin said. "And among the Soviet soldiers who died on the battlefields were the people of all nationalities of the former Soviet Union."

Much of the world marks May 8 as the anniversary of the announcement of the unconditional German surrender, long known as V-E Day, for victory in Europe.

Russia waited a day later to celebrate the end of what it called the Great Patriotic War with Germany, so May 9 became its V-E Day.

The Germans actually surrendered on May 7 in Reims, France, at the headquarters of the supreme Allied commander, U.S. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.

Russia lost an estimated 27 million soldiers and citizens in the war. Putin's family, like most Russian families, lost relatives.

In his address to the assembled crowd in Red Square, Putin also recalled the cooperation that lead to the defeat of Germany and Italy.

"Dear friends, we never divide the victory into ours and theirs, and we'll always remember the help of the Allies -- the United States, Great Britain, France -- and other countries of the anti-Hitler coalition, the German and Italian anti-fascists," he said.

"Today we pay respect to the courage of all Europeans who showed resistance to Nazism."

Putin urged a new world alliance against terrorism.

"In the face of the existing threat of terrorism, we must remain true to the memory of our fathers," he said. "We are required to defend a world order based on security and justice."

Following the ceremonies, the leaders walked to Russia's tomb of the unknown soldier, where they laid red carnations.

While the other Allies' heads of government attended Monday's ceremonies, British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent his deputy, John Prescott. Blair remained in London to put the finishing touches on his government, which won re-election last week. (Full story)

Staying away

Bush's visit to Moscow marked the third stop in a planned four-nation, five-day trip celebrating the 60th anniversary of V-E Day. (Itinerary)

Later Monday, Bush flew from Moscow to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where he planned to deliver a speech on democracy and freedom. (Full story)

Bush has in recent days lamented the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia at the beginning of World War II. He met Saturday with the leaders of all three nations.

In a speech Saturday in the Latvian capital Riga, Bush referred to the "occupation and communist oppression" of the Baltic states, which won independence in 1991. (Full story)

Putin recently expressed nostalgia for the Soviet Union, and argued the Baltic states chose to align themselves with the central Russian authority.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili disputed that assertion in an interview Sunday with CNN, recalling Soviet postwar domination of Eastern Europe and the suppression of nationalism in the Baltic countries as well as his own.

Saakashvili, a 37-year-old who spent years studying in the United States, was not among the dignitaries at Monday's ceremony in Moscow.

"You can understand mixed feelings that people might have here," Saakashvili said of the V-E Day celebrations.

The leaders of Estonia and Lithuania also stayed away from Moscow. Latvia's leader chose to attend.

'Cordial' talks

On Sunday, Bush and Putin met privately and discussed U.S. concerns that Russia was moving away from democracy.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters the two men were "straightforward. They say what they mean and then they act on that." (Full story)

The Baltics and Georgia were among the topics when Bush and Putin met privately Sunday night, U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.

Hadley described the conversations as "cordial, extensive, light-hearted at times."

The private meeting was followed by further talks involving top officials and then dinner, which also involved the leaders' wives.

Topics of discussion included steps to advance the Middle East peace process, Iran's nuclear ambitions and United Nations "reform."

Putin also recorded an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," which aired Sunday evening, in which he rejected U.S. complaints about changes he has made and called aspects of the U.S. democratic system into question.

CNN's Dana Bash, John King and Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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