President Clinton joined Russian President Boris Yeltsin in sounding themes of reconciliation and unity Tuesday as leaders of more than 50 nations marked the 50th anniversary of V-E Day.
But throughout the generally festive day, strains stemming from the Russian crackdown on Chechnya were evident in the carefully erected facade of U.S.-Russian unity.
And they seemed likely to return today over Chechnya and proposed Russian nuclear sales to Iran when the two presidents meet for five hours at the Kremlin.
Still, Clinton and Yeltsin seemed determined to stress the developing ties between their countries by keeping Tuesday’s focus on the successful end of World War II in Europe and their hopes for peace in the days ahead.
Speaking at the dedication of a military museum and a soaring bayonet-shaped monument to the war, Clinton took special note of the fact that Russia paid the heaviest human price of any participant in the conflict, suffering more than 20 million of the 40 million wartime deaths.
“The Cold War obscured our ability to fully appreciate what your people had suffered and how your extraordinary courage helped to hasten the victory we all celebrate today,” the president said. “Now we must all say you wrote some of the greatest chapters in the history of heroism.”
And he declared that, “Just as Russians and Americans fought together 50 years ago against the common evil, so today we must fight for the common good.”
Earlier in the day, Yeltsin, speaking from atop Lenin’s tomb to thousands of medalbedecked veterans and youthful cadets in Red Square, invoked a similar thought.
“Let the memory of this war be a unifying factor these days,” he said. “We must not allow the poisonous seeds of fascism to strike us again.”
And he referred to the reconciliation between his country and Germany and the presence of so many of the world’s leaders. “We are one,” he said. “We are together. We are unified in our intention to preserve the generations to come and to free them from the hardships of war.”
After the Red Square festivities, one of the biggest Russian military parades in years took place as tanks, missile launchers and anti-aircraft weapons rumbled down a Moscow thoroughfare as jets thundered overhead. The parade was boycotted by Clinton and a number of other Western leaders.
Press secretary Mike McCurry, downplaying the president’s absence, said that during the military parade, Clinton had a light lunch of borscht and a Russian dumpling.
“He is here in Russia to commemorate the military victories of World War II,” McCurry said. “And he is not here to dwell on the security issues that remain part of the bilateral agenda that we would discuss with Russia.”