The Mixed Legacy of V-E Day in Europe

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On Monday, President Bush will attend a victory celebration in Moscow's Red Square that Russian President Vladimir Putin is staging on the day Russians regard as the V-E Day anniversary. Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr notes that the occasion may be marked by tension between the two world leaders over President Bush's warm support for the Baltic states, where the V-E Day anniversary is a reminder of the birth of the Soviet empire.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

It was a historic victory, the triumph of Hitler's forces that cost 27 million lives of Stalin's subjects. It was a historic victory, but 60 years later finds it clouded in ambiguity that President Bush has to contend with on this, the most delicate of trips that he is yet undertaking.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Leaders of 56 countries will be on hand in Red Square, but not the leaders of the Baltic states Lithuania and Estonia. They were not liberated in 1945, but only exchanged one occupation for another. Mr. Bush wrote their presidents that he could understand their decision to stay away given the painful history. And so he arranged to meet them in Riga, the Latvian capital, and also tack on a visit to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia on his way home. The Russians protested against these visits, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waved them off.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called the breakup of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century, probably is not enchanted with the warm hand of friendship that Mr. Bush has extended to the former Soviet states. But then Mr. Bush probably is not enchanted with the Russian president's refusal to denounce the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact that opened the way to the annexation of the Baltic states and the partition of Poland. Actually, President Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the dying Soviet Union, did denounce the Hitler-Stalin pact. But Putin dismissed that as merely an effort to ensure Russia's security on its western border.

So there's not likely to be a lot of soulful gazing into each other's eyes as President Bush and Putin witness the commemoration from Lenin's Tomb in Red Square. But as one official put it, Mr. Bush will try to avoid overt friction by concentrating on the tasks that lie ahead in the 21st century. This is Daniel Schorr.

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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