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Bush Attends V-E Day Ceremonies in Moscow

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

(Soundbite of marching band)

INSKEEP: And that's the sound from Moscow's Red Square where a military parade honored Russia's World War II veterans today. Sixty years ago, the armies of the country then known as the Soviet Union played a huge role in defeating Nazi Germany. Today, Russian troops and war veterans marched through Red Square as air force jets flew overhead. President Bush joined Russian President Vladimir Putin on the reviewing stand today, and the spectators included NPR's Don Gonyea, who's on the line now.

And Don, what was it like to see an American president in Red Square on this reviewing stand where you would have seen Soviet leaders in past years watching parades very much like this one?

DON GONYEA reporting:

It was very strange, especially given how much this parade featured imagery of the old Soviet Union. Things opened with four goose-stepping soldiers marching into the square. They carried a large Red Army flag. It had the old Soviet hammer and sickle on it. It's a replica of the flag that flew over Berlin after the fall of Berlin 60 years ago. And then came unit after unit of the Russian military. Some were dressed in present-day uniforms, some were in World War II-era uniforms. They marched past on those old cobblestones. Russian anthems played, soldiers sang; the songs, the footsteps, everything echoing off the buildings around Red Square. And there right in front of the Kremlin, right by Lenin's Tomb, President Bush watched all of this, along with about 50 other world leaders.

An aide to the president was asked if it made him uncomfortable at all, and--you know, with all the Soviet imagery--and he said no, that Mr. Bush was very comfortable honoring and recognizing the sacrifices and suffering of a country that lost 27 million people during the war.

INSKEEP: And what about the wreath-laying that was part of today's ceremony, too?

GONYEA: It was the solemn moment of the day. It took place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after all of the music and the marching, and all of the visiting heads of state walked from the viewing platform, a good distance alongside the Kremlin, around a corner over to where the tomb is. That tomb actually contains ashes that were taken from a mass grave somewhere near Moscow, and there are urns containing ashes of unidentified Soviet soldiers taken from six different cities as well. So that was a very solemn moment.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea is in Moscow, and Don, I understand that in addition to the symbolism, there was some substance over this past weekend. President Bush and President Putin held a meeting and spoke after that meeting?

GONYEA: They did. They didn't speak after it, but before they went into this private one-on-one meeting, they had some brief comments. The president and President Putin talked about their positive relationship. Mr. Bush talked about how glad he is to be here. Not a lot of news in their comments, but everybody was watching the body language. The private meeting came first, then the dinner. Both went longer than expected. A lot has been made of the growing tension in this relationship between these two men. They've had big disagreements over Iraq and over Russian missile sales to Syria and over what's seen as backsliding by Putin over his commitment to democracy. But yesterday they were clearly all about really putting a cordial face on everything, looking like old friends. They rode around Putin's compound in his 1956 Volga automobile, with President Bush driving, and both seemed to be enjoying themselves.

INSKEEP: And very briefly, is there another point of tension in the president's next stop? He's going to the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

GONYEA: Absolutely. Georgia is a new democracy with tense relations with its large Russian neighbor, and the president will give a speech about democracy and freedom to a crowd that the White House says could be a hundred thousand people right in Freedom Square in Tblisi.

INSKEEP: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. He is traveling with President Bush and is in Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.