WARSAW, Poland -- Poland put on its biggest military parade in years Friday to mark its annual armed forces holiday, with the president saying the violence in Ukraine shows that conflict is still a "brutal reality" in Eastern Europe and Poland must be able to defend itself. Fighter jets and military helicopters flew over Warsaw as tanks rolled through the capital. More than 1,000 Polish soldiers marched, joined by dozens of U.S. and Canadian troops who are in Poland for NATO exercises. The parade came on the Aug. 15 holiday that honors a stunning Polish victory against Russian Bolsheviks in 1920.
Poland has been occupied or controlled by Moscow for much of the past two centuries, leaving Poles shaken by the current Russian aggression in neighboring Ukraine. The government has reacted with appeals to NATO to set up permanent bases in Poland, but is facing resistance from Germany and some other members. "The Russian-Ukrainian conflict clearly shows that not all of the nations in our region can live in security," President Bronislaw Komorowski said in a speech before the parade. He said Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, its arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine and the "shooting down of a civilian passenger jet with children on board" show that the world must abandon its "illusions" and see that "armed conflict is still a brutal reality of Eastern Europe." He also called on NATO members to invest more in their defense, decrying that NATO spending has gone down even as Russia over the past eight years has significantly increased its own military spending. Present at the ceremony was the family of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, who was killed in Afghanistan in August 2013 while shielding a Polish soldier from a suicide bomber who attacked the Polish base in Ghazni. Polish leaders have praised Ollis as a hero.