Western forces to march through Red Square

2007 Victory Day march in Moscow

For people in Russia, May 9th is an important date on the calendar. It is Victory Day, the day that Nazi Germany capitulated to the then Soviet Union. It is celebrated every year in Russia and for the last two years Vladimir Putin has re-started the Soviet era tradition of parading tanks, missiles and low flying military aircraft through Red Square as thousands of Russians look on. This year however, will include a new and very different twist that Victory Day usually consists of.

This year the parade will include the marching of NATO forces, specifically some British and American troops. To understand the meaning that this gesture represents, one must understand that one of the main reasons NATO was created in the first place was to keep Russia from attacking Europe. Russia has always been against the presence of NATO near their border and always tried to convince former Soviet nations to not become a part of NATO.

This gesture shows how far ties have come between Russia and the west. The biggest factor in this strengthened relationship has to be President Obama and the work his administration has done to improve ties between the U.S. and Russia. They agreed on a nuclear pact that will decrease the size of both their arsenals and Russia has signaled more cooperation with the U.S. on the Iran issue.

There are many people in Russia that do not like the idea of armed British and U.S. troops marching through Red Square as it reminds them of who won the cold war. Also, Russia’s largest opposition party is a communist one and that could not be more opposite than what the British and U.S. stand for. Still, a majority of Russians support their presence in the parade as they likely see that their future will be better if they are friends with the west than against them.

These types of gestures, including the nuclear pact are good steps for the former cold war foes. However, more substantial steps need to be taken to really have an impact on the lives of people on both sides. Today’s Russia is very different from the Soviet era in terms of the economy and business freedoms. However, it is nowhere near the openness of the U.S. open market. Russia still has a lot of corruption and the lucky rich in Russia too often made their fortunes from illegal means such as selling weapons to brutal regimes and militias.

The marching through Red Square of NATO forces is something that no one in Russia would have imagined 20 years ago, unless they were having a nightmare. What is even more surprising is that 55% of them support NATO being there which is even more remarkable considering the years of propaganda against the west and that so many Russian elites in years past have vowed that no foreigners would march through Moscow carrying arms. My, how times have changed.