WASHINGTON, DC – When Russian President Vladimir Putin presides over the military parade commemorating Victory in Europe Day on May 9, he will not attract the crowd he could have expected a couple of years ago. Neither US President Barack Obama nor any leader from the European Union will be present to watch as tanks roll and military bands march through Red Square. Aside from the president of Serbia, the only leaders expected to be in attendance are from countries, such as China and Vietnam, that were not part of the European theater in World War II.
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and given Putin’s continued support for secessionists in eastern Ukraine, relations between Russia and the West are as bad as they have been since the Soviet Union disintegrated almost a quarter-century ago. Obama recently listed Russian aggression in Europe alongside Ebola and the Islamic State as one of the three main threats to US national security. Putin responded with claims that the US created the Islamic State and supports “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine and around the world.
The diplomatic tension is ironic, because the parade in Moscow is meant to commemorate a victory made possible seven decades ago by the alliance of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Today, the former allies are unable to work together, even when facing a common enemy like the Islamic State.
Previous commemorations – which were attended by US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – emphasized the common endeavor. This year, Russian media have ceaselessly downplayed American and British contributions to the defeat of the Axis powers. The Nazi-Soviet pact, which carved up Poland and Romania between the Soviet Union and Germany, has been swept under the rug.