Putin promises a strong Russia, opponents jailed

MOSCOW Wed May 9, 2012 6:16pm EDT

1 of 8. Russia's President Vladimir Putin (front) addresses the parliament, while former President and prime ministerial candidate Dmitry Medvedev listens, during a session to approve a candidate for the post of Prime Minister at the Russian State Duma in Moscow May 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin promised to project Russia's might on the world stage in a rallying speech on Wednesday to troops and war veterans celebrating victory over Nazi Germany at a military parade bristling with weapons on Red Square.

Two days after starting his six-year term, Putin, flanked by military chiefs and his defense and prime ministers, used the address to reinforce appeals for national unity as he tries to reassert his authority, shaken by months of protests.

Russian courts later jailed two prominent opposition leaders for 15 days for their role in the protests against his return to the Kremlin, sending a new signal that Putin is determined to keep a lid on dissent in his third presidential term.

"Russia consistently follows a policy of strengthening global security and we have a great moral right to stand up determinedly for our positions because our country suffered the blow of Nazism," Putin said in the annual speech marking Victory in Europe day, delivered from a podium under the Kremlin walls.

He did not refer to any enemy other than evoking the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 at a great human cost, including millions of Soviet victims, at a parade in which goose-stepping troops, tanks and trucks carrying missiles filed past him.

"Barbarians were plotting to destroy whole nations," he said. "The inevitable happened - responsibility and common resolve prevailed over evil."

Putin, 59, has often used tough statements on foreign policy to rally people and resorted to anti-American rhetoric in the run-up to the March 4 presidential election. The tactic was also used by Soviet leaders, including on this patriotic holiday evoking the sacrifices of World War Two.

During the election campaign, Putin accused U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of stirring the protests against his 12-year rule by encouraging "mercenary" Kremlin foes.

A Russian general took the rhetoric a notch higher last week by saying Moscow could carry out pre-emptive strikes on future NATO missile defense installations. NATO called such threats "unjustified" and said the system did not threaten Russia.

Putin has said he is ready to go a long way to develop ties with the United States, but has made clear it must be on equal terms with Washington.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council has already asserted itself on several fronts, opposing Western-promoted sanctions aimed at long-standing allies Syria and Iran. It has emerged as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main foreign supporter in the conflict there, a stand that has created tension with Western powers.

OPPOSITION LEADERS HELD

At Putin's side was former president Dmitry Medvedev, one day after parliament approved his ally as prime minister, completing a job swap that has upset many Russians fearing political and economic stagnation.

Alarm over their grip on power for years to come - Putin could rule until 2024 if he won another term in 2018 - prompted protests in which several hundred people were detained in the past few days. A rally on Sunday ended in clashes with police.

Most people have since been released but two of the more charismatic opposition leaders, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and left-wing leader Sergei Udaltsov, received 15-day sentences on Wednesday for disobeying police.

Both served short jail terms at the start of the protests last December and emerged with their reputations and positions strengthened in the protest movement.

Both leaders are 35. They say Putin was elected to the Kremlin on the back of electoral fraud, even though he won almost 64 percent of votes, and have been detained repeatedly since protests took off against the former KGB officer.

About 400 people wearing the white ribbon symbolizing their protest movement joined Communists at a rally after the military parade on Wednesday, but it ended without police intervention.

Putin and Medvedev face many challenges, including making the economy less reliant on energy exports and overhauling the armed forces to make them stronger.

Putin's patriotic words rang true among many war veterans, many of them in their 80s, frail and weighed down with medals.

"We are remembering those who gave their lives in the war - millions ... You could draw a line with their bodies standing across all of Russia, 10,000 km," said retired general Valery Tretyakov, 70.

Others were worried about the state of the army now.

"I gave 63 years of my life to the Soviet armed forces. I am a patriot of the armed forces but I don't like what is happening now. I see destruction and collapse, and I am not sure about the reforms," said Vitaly Burilichev, 88.

(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (7)
DominiqueUK wrote:
It may not have been mentioned here but in his inauguration speech Putin claimed that the Soviet Russia had brought freedom to the nations of the world during WW2. In the light of the facts it must be called slanting since the very same Soviet Russia collaborated with the Nazi Germany before the war so closely that on August 23, 1939 the two countries signed a secret deal which resulted in a joint assault of Poland in September 1939 (Sept 1 – Nazi Germany, Sept 17 – Soviet Russia). Now, to claim to have brought freedom to a country after attacking it – how could it be called? Right, it’s the modern politics. Where impressions reign and facts matter the least. And to say the WW2 started for the Soviet Russia in 1941? You’ve got to be kidding me. By the same token the Germans would have to assert the War started for them once they decided to retreat from the Soviet territory after defeats in 1941.

May 09, 2012 8:18am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Paulnus wrote:
Welcome back Mr. Putin. United State arms manufacturers missed you!

May 09, 2012 10:57am EDT  --  Report as abuse
W-DS wrote:
@dominiqueuk,

Only someone really ignorant could claim Russia played no part in the victory and the downfall of the Nazis/Hitler.

Russia single handedly weakened the Germans to the extent when Hitlers men were ordered to fight the Americans/British and Canadians they had very little reinforcements to call upon.

The Germans lost over half their tanks to the red army, and at least 40% of their aircraft.

Had Hitler attacked the rest of Europe without taking a shot at Russia first, its safe to say the Germans would have been at least 1.7 times stronger than they were when America/Britain and Canada went on the offensive.

The ending would have been entirely different, and its probable the Germans would have landed on, and potentially occupied, parts of Mainland Britain.

Attacking the Soviets was the major mistake that cost the Nazis the war.

They did do some horrific things before, during and shortly after the war, but if you look back and in the correct places, you will find every “player” in the world wars did.

May 09, 2012 2:29pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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