Feb. 3 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin led celebrations Friday to mark the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II’s pivotal Battle of Stalingrad.
Putin laid wreaths at monuments and was the guest of honor at military parades and memorial observances. His major address concentrated on Russian patriotism and sacrifice for the country.
The battle between defending troops of the Soviet Union and invading Nazi Germany lasted seven months in the winter of 1942-1943. The city’s proximity to oil fields and the symbolic attachment to overtaking an area named for Soviet leader Josef Stalin were the Nazi motivations to invade the city.
Stalin refused to evacuate the citizens of the city now named Volgograd, and civilian casualties were high. Many died of starvation. Nearly 2.2 million people were involved, with at least 1.7 million people killed, wounded or captured. It is regarded as among the most severe battles in the history of warfare.
With the costly defeat and withdrawal of the Nazi military, it is also considered a turning point in Western civilization. Germany’s army was depleted for the rest of the war and it surrendered in 1945.
On Friday, the Kremlin reported the mood at several war memorials was proud and somber. Putin visited the Battle of Stalingrad State Historical Memorial Museum, placing a wreath at an eternal flame. He also presented flowers at the grave of Soviet military leader Gen. Vasily Chuikov. Chuikov was commander the 62nd Army, which distinguished itself during the battle.
“The destiny of the homeland and the whole world was decided in Stalingrad at that time. The tough character of our people was manifested in full there. They fought for every building and the lives of their children,” Putin said in his formal address. “The triumph of this battle embodied the courage and bravery of our soldiers and commanders, and the talent and boldness of Soviet military leaders.”
Although Russian and German government agencies work together when mass graves from the battle are discovered, German leaders were not invited to Friday’s observances. No reconciliation, such as the 1984 handshake between then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and then-French President Francois Mitterand at the World War I battlefield of Verdun, France, is anticipated.