MOSCOW - Speaking to thousands of soldiers at the annual Red Square military parade, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Wednesday that the country is a force for world security and that Russia will stand up for its positions.
Putin's speech, two days after his inauguration for a third term in the Kremlin, came less than a week after the nation's military chief of staff warned that Russia would consider pre-emptive strikes, if a dispute with the United States over a Europe-based missile defense system worsens.
Russia vehemently opposes the planned placement of radars and missile interceptors in Romania and Poland, saying they would undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent. The United States says the system is needed to protect against potential missile attacks by Iran and that the installations could not act against Russian missiles.
Putin did not mention any country specifically in his speech Wednesday, but he said: "Russia consistently conducts its policy for strengthening security in the world, and we have the great moral right to fundamentally and insistently stand up for our position."
The annual parade marks Victory Day, which commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany and is Russia's most important secular holiday. The enormous suffering of World War II, and the Red Army's determination to beat back the Nazi invasion, are cherished elements in Russia's national identity.
The Soviet Union lost an estimated 26 million people in the war, including 8.5 million soldiers.
Among the thousands of spectators along the square were World War II veterans bent with age, their suitcoats festooned with rows of medals.
"Your courage and ability to love and defend your homeland will never recede into the past and will remain the hallmark of morals, patriotism and sense of civic duty in the eyes of the younger generation," Putin said.
This year's parade included some 14,000 impassive servicemen precision-marching through the 5.5-acre square and a nearly mile-long convoy of mobile missile-launchers, tanks and other military vehicles.
Along with displaying military power, this year's parade also was a chance to show meteorological might. Four air force planes were deployed about four hours before the parade started to spread cloud-seeding chemicals and make rain fall before reaching the city center, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. The result? The skies were gray during the parade in Moscow, but no rain fell.