Moscow: Troops from four NATO states will march through Red Square for the first time Sunday as Russia marks victory in World War II with its biggest military parade since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In a moment of huge symbolism, soldiers from Britain, France, Poland and the United States will step onto the square`s famed cobbles while Russia proudly displays nuclear-capable missiles that once threatened Western targets.
Some 10,000 Russian troops and military hardware including nuclear-capable Topol-M missiles will take part in a finely choreographed parade aiming to impress the world with Russia`s post Soviet resurgence.
Around two dozen world leaders are attending the 65th anniversary of the victory, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of state of almost all the ex-Soviet nations.
However French President Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled his planned visit to concentrate on battling the financial crisis gripping Europe, the French embassy said.
A controversial plan to plaster posters of wartime dictator Joseph Stalin around the city was shelved -- reportedly on the Kremlin`s orders -- and the pictures will now only be shown in museums.
The authorities have made every effort to turn the day into a massive holiday, hanging banners with slogans like "Victory -- Let Us Be Proud" across major streets and pinning huge murals to the sides of apartment blocks.
A total of 127 military aircraft will roar through the sky during the 70-minute parade while 159 pieces of military hardware drive past the VIP grandstand erected in front of Lenin`s mausoleum.
Similar parades will get underway across Russia at the same time as the Moscow event that starts at 0600 GMT, with 100,000 Russian troops involved nationwide.
World War II is known in Russian as the Great Patriotic War and is considered to have started in 1941 with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union that brought Moscow into the war, rather than 1939.
The heroism of parents and grandparents in battles like Stalingrad and Kursk remains the subject of fierce pride in Russian families and the authorities bristle at any attempts to tarnish the memory of the Soviet sacrifice.
"The was the hardest war, in which our people were on the brink of survival," President Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday. "Only thanks to those on the front do we have a future and the chance to enjoy this spring."
"We will do everything so the glory of the Great Patriotic War never dims and is always clear for our descendants."
Muscovites have been proudly wearing the felt hats worn by Soviet soldiers in the war and also sporting black and orange bands known as Saint George ribbons that have become the major modern symbol of victory in the war.
With Russia still finding its national identity almost two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the surrender of Nazi forces is seen by the authorities as a moment which can unify modern Russia.
However liberal analysts have expressed cynicism over the Moscow parade costing 1.3 billion rubles (40 million dollars), saying the authorities are using the event for a show of might to reinforce their own power.
The NATO member troops involved in the parade include members of the US 2nd Battalion, 18th Regiment, the British 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, the French Normandie-Niemen squadron and a Polish marching battalion.
The Western allies mark Victory in Europe Day each year on May 8, but Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9 as the German surrender went into force at 11:01 pm Berlin time, when it was already May 9 in Moscow.