Medvedev says Russia will rebuff aggression

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev warned on Saturday that Russia would “decisively rebuff” aggression, as troops who defeated Georgia in a war last year took part in the annual Victory Day parade.

Medvedev, opening the biggest and most spectacular parade in post-Soviet history, said the lessons of the Soviet Union’s World War Two victory were still relevant today -- a clear reference to Russia’s five-day war with Georgia last August.

“Our victory over fascism is a great example and a great lesson to all nations, a lesson which is still topical today, when again and again people appear who indulge in military adventurism...,” Medvedev said from a dais in front of Lenin’s tomb in Red Square.

“Defense of our homeland is our holy duty... We are sure that any aggression against our citizens will be decisively rebuffed,” he added. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sat next to Medvedev but did not speak.

Russia says it was forced to defend its peacekeeping troops and citizens in rebel South Ossetia when Tbilisi tried to seize the pro-Moscow region by force. Russia’s ties with NATO plunged to a post-Cold War low after the conflict and remain tense.

Underlining Russia’s present-day military power, troops drove trucks carrying the giant, nuclear Topol-M missiles and the latest S-400 “Triumph” air defense rockets through Red Square to gasps of admiration from the crowd of officials, veterans, officers and family members.

“It made a superb impression on me,” said Maria Glavdivana, an 87-year-old World War Two veteran, her chest festooned with clinking medals. “We are showing the world our masculinity, our strength. We will never ever weaken.”

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Medvedev paid tribute to those who fought in Georgia, saying, “Those marching today in this square ... will include the ones who in a real battle proved the high combat readiness of the modern Russian army.”

Goose-stepping guards of honor, clad in new dark-blue uniforms with crimson chests, golden shoulder-straps and embroidered peaked caps carried the Victory Banner at the start of the parade in Red Square, as 1,000 musicians from 19 military orchestras played stirring marches in bright sunshine.

The banner, a red hammer-and-sickle Soviet flag, was hoisted over the Reichstag building in Berlin, marking the end of what is known here as the 1941-45 Great Patriotic War. It cost around 27 million Soviet lives.

A Soviet victory symbol -- a giant red-and-gold star -- was erected on the facade of the GUM department store, now a luxury shopping arcade, facing the Kremlin.

Veterans, their chests heaving with medals, watched from a grandstand as 9,000 troops from various sections of the Russian armed forces including the Space Forces, Interior Ministry, Air Force, Navy and Federal Security Service paraded.

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“This parade proves we have people to defend our motherland,” said Pavel Bogodukhov, who fought the Nazis in Stalingrad and marched with the victorious Soviet army to Berlin. “We should feel proud that our armed forces are strong again.”

After Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov took the salute, standing in a grey, open-top Soviet Zil limousine, Russia’s latest T-90 main battle tanks, armored vehicles, howitzers and cannons rumbled past the red-brick walls of the Kremlin.

Around 70 combat aircraft and helicopters -- over twice as many as last year -- buzzed Red Square at a record low altitude of just 300 meters. The final formation of warplanes dropped a burst of burning stars over the square.

Making its first flight over Red Square was the Mil Mi-28 all-weather, attack helicopter, referred to by NATO as “Havoc.”

Other aircraft included the Cold War-era nuclear-capable Tu-160 strategic bomber, the biggest military aircraft built to date which flies patrols close to NATO nations.

Russia celebrates Victory in Europe Day a day later than the rest of the world as it was early morning on May 9, 1945 in Moscow when the Soviet Union and its allies signed the Act of Germany’s Military Surrender outside Berlin.

Editing by Louise Ireland