Merkel Plans to Skip Moscow World War II Victory Day Parade

German Chancellor Opts for Smaller Ceremony at Kremlin Instead Amid Ukraine Conflict

BERLIN–German Chancellor Angela Merkel will skip a Moscow military parade in May commemorating the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany but hold a separate ceremony at the Kremlin the next day, a balancing act showing the complexities of dealing with Russia’s new isolation.

A spokesman for Ms. Merkel on Wednesday said she had declined Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to attend the parade. The annual event marking the end of World War II has in years past symbolized East-West reconciliation and included leaders from the U.S., Germany, and other Western countries to honor the estimated 20 million Soviet lives lost in the war with Nazi Germany.

Instead, Ms. Merkel will fly to Moscow a day later—May 10—and join Mr. Putin in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall.

In 2010, for the 65th anniversary, Ms. Merkel watched U.S. and British troops join the Russian military in the Red Square procession in a show of post-Cold-War unity. In 2005, Mr. Putin had President George W. Bush sit next to him to watch the parade on the May 9 Victory Day, one of Russia’s main holidays.

This time, though, President Barack Obama and many other Western leaders are expected to stay away amid the conflict over Ukraine. But Ms. Merkel’s announcement that she, too, would snub Mr. Putin despite Germany’s determination to face its Nazi past is one of the starkest signs of how intensely Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine have strained Russia’s ties with the West.

“With a view to Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, taking part in a military parade appears not appropriate,” Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said.

Ms. Merkel, who has acted as the West’s chief interlocutor with the Kremlin throughout the Ukraine crisis, laid out her views in a phone call with Mr. Putin late last week, a person close to her said. In the call, which dealt mainly with the approaching World War II anniversary, Mr. Putin accepted Ms. Merkel’s alternate proposal: that she would come to Moscow a day after the parade and commemorate the war in a smaller, separate ceremony with Mr. Putin.

“Jointly remembering the historical chapter that both our peoples lived through in World War II, and in which Germany caused so much death and so much suffering, is very important for the chancellor,” Mr. Seibert said. “The obligation to keep this memory alive and to honor the dead is independent of that which currently divides us from Russia politically.”

A spokesman for Mr. Putin played down Ms. Merkel’s decision, telling a Russian news agency that her absence “will not affect the spirit of the celebration, its emotional component, or the scale of the celebration.” In recent weeks, though, Russian officials have criticized what they have described as Western attempts to revise history and minimize a core element of Russia’s national identity—its sacrifices in defeating Nazi Germany.

With Ms. Merkel not attending, the most prominent confirmed guests according to the Russian government will be Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. A spokesman for Mr. Obama said earlier this year that he wouldn’t go.

For European leaders, whether to attend is turning into a litmus test of where they stand on Mr. Putin. Czech President Milos Zeman, a critic of sanctions against Russia, plans to come, his spokesman said Wednesday. His counterpart in neighboring Slovakia, President Andrej Kiska, is an outspoken critic of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and hasn’t yet announced whether he will come. Nor has Hungarian President Janos Ader or the new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras.

Because of the time difference between Moscow and Germany, Russia celebrates the Nazis’ capitulation on the evening of May 8, 1945, on May 9. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, who is also skipping the May 9 event, said earlier this year he would like to host international leaders on May 8 for a commemoration in Gdansk, where World War II began in 1939.

A spokesman for Ms. Merkel said she hasn’t been invited to the event, and a spokesman for Mr. Komorowski declined to comment on who would attend. The chief of the Russian presidential administration, Sergei Ivanov, said in January that the Polish president’s plan was designed to upstage Mr. Putin.

—Leos Rousek in Prague contributed to this article.

Write to Anton Troianovski

The World Street Journal March 11, 2015



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