MOSCOW –- Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a speech Wednesday marking the country’s Victory Day holiday commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany, declared his intention to remain a tough leader focused on world security.
Putin stressed to the thousands of soldiers, veterans and dignitaries gathered in Red Square the importance of compliance with international norms and respect for state sovereignty.
“Russia has been consistently pursuing a policy of strengthening the world’s security and we have a great moral right to take a principled and insistent stand,” said Putin, who on Monday was inaugurated to a third term as president. “It was our country that took upon itself the main strike by the Nazis.”
The short speech received a standing ovation and was followed by the traditional manifestation of Russian military might. Thousands of troops marched on the cobblestones of Red Square and military hardware rolled across the historic landmark.
In addition to celebrating Russia’s role in ending World War II, Putin’s speech was a warning to the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization about involvement in Syria and Iran even though no specific countries were mentioned, several analysts and observers said.
“President Putin made it quite clear who is nursing aggressive plans in the world today,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and its faction in parliament, traditionally loyal to the Kremlin, said in an interview after the speech. “It is the United States and NATO without any doubt.”
Sergei Markov, vice president of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics and a Kremlin advisor, said in an interview that Putin showed he has no intention of pandering to aggressive plans.
“Our leader made it clear that such threats that arise from the United States exist today and can eventually lead to a global confrontation,” Markov said in an interview.
Many analysts have said they are concerned with the increasing militarization of Russia’s rhetoric and political and economic decisions.
Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov said last week that Russia may consider a preemptive strike on a missile defense system in Europe if the U.S.-led NATO project continues as planned.
In November, then-President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to withdraw from the New START nuclear arms control deal with the U.S. and deploy missiles aimed toward U.S. defense installations in Europe after becoming upset over missile defense consultations between the two countries.
Officials say the defense budget of Russia for 2012-14 will see a 20% to 22% boost at the expense of education, healthcare and the housing sector, even as the salaries of military servicemen have more than doubled.
Putin’s speech was a program statement based on his understanding of Russia’s role in modern world, said Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation, a Moscow-based think tank.
“I wouldn’t say how ethically acceptable was the allusion to Hitler’s Germany in talking about the current challenges, but Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] took advantage of the occasion to outline Russia’s course to strengthen its military might, to stand firm by its position on NATO strategic defense in Europe, and to promote its vision of regional problems in Syria, Iran and possibly North Korea,” Kortunov said in an interview.
Also Wednesday, police again arrested dozens of anti-Putin protesters in different parts of Moscow. Opposition leaders Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov were each sentenced by a Moscow district court to 15 days in prison for disobeying the police during an unsanctioned gathering Tuesday night.
-- Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speak as they watch the Victory Day parade at Moscow's Red Square. Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP/Getty Images