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Putin invokes Stalingrad, and even Stalin

Date

Eleonore Dermy

Decorated ... a World War II veteran in Volgograd for the anniversary celebrations.

Decorated ... a World War II veteran in Volgograd for the anniversary celebrations. Photo: AFP

VOLGOGRAD: The city of Volgograd was renamed Stalingrad for a day as Russia marked the 70th anniversary of the brutal battle in which the Red Army defeated Nazi forces and changed the course of World War II.

President Vladimir Putin on Saturday called the battle "one of the greatest examples of world heroism" during a stirring address to Volgograd veterans that played up the nationalist themes of his third Kremlin term.

Stalingrad will forever remain the symbol of the unity and invincibility of our people. 

Vladimir Putin

"Stalingrad will forever remain the symbol of the unity and invincibility of our people," Mr Putin said. "It is a symbol of true patriotism – a symbol of the great victory of the Soviet soldier-liberator."

Misery ... captured German soldiers make their way through the ruins of Stalingrad.

Misery ... captured German soldiers make their way through the ruins of Stalingrad. Photo: AP

Commuter buses emblazoned with pictures of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ran across the southern city as patriotic Russians honoured what many view as the Soviet people's greatest achievement.

"I remember the sadness of the war and the victory of the Soviet soldiers," said a World War II veteran, Alexander Kudlyayev, as he joined 10,000 others at a wreath-laying ceremony at Volgograd's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"I came to honour my friends who died here," said an 89-year-old Stalingrad survivor, Pyotr Chabarov.

Patriotic message ... Vladimir Putin speaks at the ceremony to mark the battle's 70th anniversary.

Patriotic message ... Vladimir Putin speaks at the ceremony to mark the battle's 70th anniversary. Photo: AFP

The half-year battle in 1943 in the city on the Volga River – much of it fought in close-quarters combat across the ruined streets – claimed the lives of 2 million people and eventually led to the surrender of the German troops.

The battle marked Hitler's first big defeat and led to a Nazi retreat from Soviet territory after the lightning invasion in June 1941 that had caught Stalin completely unaware.

The pulverised city was renamed Volgograd in 1961 after Soviet leaders admitted the extent of Stalin's tyranny during his decades in power.

But the old name has remained synonymous with the battle and Volgograd politicians decided to revive it for the anniversary and five other days of the year.

Mr Putin has never denied Stalin's murderous purges of innocent citizens and deadly forced collectivisation. But he and other modern leaders have preferred to overlook the disastrous errors in military strategy Stalin made during the war.

And Mr Putin has preached a patriotic message since returning to the presidency in May after serving four years as premier.

He told the veterans that "no country can live without [patriotism] because otherwise it will simply dissolve like a lump of sugar in a cup of tea".

State media had focused their attention on Volgograd throughout the week as they detailed the lavish preparations and Kremlin's attention to veterans.

The commemorations were broadcast live on the national news channels while state television broadcast a new dramatised documentary about the "battle that changed world history".

But not everyone was pleased that this memory now appeared to be once again firmly associated with Stalin's name.

"This was a mistake," said a woman who agreed to only give her first name, Larisa.

"We are overestimating Stalin's role in the war," she said. "He was bloodthirsty."

Agence France-Presse

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