Western Allies Shun Russia for 70th V-E Day Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to John Daniszewski, the Associated Press's Senior Managing Editor for International News, during an AP interview at Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia,

The World War II allies who came together to defeat Nazi Germany will celebrate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day -- Victory in Europe -- separately after Russian aggression in Crimea and Ukraine have chilled relations between the former allies.

In 1995, then-President Bill Clinton was in Moscow on May 9, when Russia marked V-E Day, and in 2005 then-President George W. Bush also was in Red Square for the victory parade in the effort to put the Cold War that followed World War II behind them. This year, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John F. Tefft will make a low-key appearance.

President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande have all declined Putin's invitations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also declined to be present in Moscow on May 9, but was expected to attend lesser events in Moscow on Sunday.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko will also be a no-show in Moscow. Instead, he will join 11 other presidents of Central and Eastern Europe to mark V-E Day in Poland.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite explained her reasons for forbidding the Lithuanian ambassador to Russia from attending events in Moscow. "I do not think that now is the time to watch a military parade during which the flag of occupied Crimea will be carried," Grybauskaite said.

Putin will use V-E Day to show off the strength of his modernizing army with the appearance in the victory parade for the first time of Russia's new tank, the Armata. Earlier this week, the Armata made its first appearance in public in a parade rehearsal.

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The Russians have boasted that the Armata is superior to the U.S. M1A2 Abrams tank and other Western versions, featuring an internal armored capsule for its three-member crew and an automatic loading system.

However, one of the eight new Russian tanks stopped in the parade rehearsal and sat idle for 15 minutes before rolling away.

NATO will also be showing off its determination to defend member states despite the vastly diminished strength of allied forces in Europe since V-E Day in 1945.

When Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the U.S. and allied commander, had 61 U.S. divisions, or 1,622,000 men, in Europe, according to the Army War College. Today, U.S. troops in Europe number about 60,000, including about 30,000 in U.S. Army Europe.

While 16,500 troops march through Red Square, more than a dozen NATO surface vessels and four submarines will continue participation in the "Dynamic Mongoose" exercise in the North Sea to hone their anti-submarine warfare skills following alleged intrusions by Russian submarines in the territorial waters of the Nordic countries.

In Washington, D.C., on Friday, World War II veterans will gather at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, and at 12:10 p.m. more than 50 vintage aircraft will fly over the Capitol in what is being billed as an "Arsenal of Democracy" fly-by.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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