(08 May, Moscow) President Putin greeted the day quite early by sharing breakfast with several guests, including the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. After breakfast they visited the National Defense Centre in Moscow.
In the Customs Union, Russia takes primary leadership of defense matters for each alliance member and Mr. Putin used the time to acquaint each leader with Russia’s command centre. Missing from last year was former Ukrainian President Yanukovich but Belorussian President Aleksandr Lukasheno (seated at far left) is no stranger to these meetings.
It is the tradition on the morning of each 08 May for the President of Russia to begin the public commemoration of Victory Day activities with laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just outside the Kremlin walls.
2014 marks the 69th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War (WWII) and accompanying Mr. Putin were Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Ivanov, State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, President of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, along with various heads of ministries and agencies, deputies, senators and a specially chosen group of Great Patriotic War veterans.
When facing the Tomb, just to the right is a line of smaller monuments designating Hero Cities of the Soviet Union. It is also tradition for presidents to lay flowers at each Hero City monument.
– The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a favourite spot for newly married couples to bring flowers from their wedding ceremony and to pose for photographs. The bringing of flowers keeps the memory alive in each new generation to remember the suffering of past wars.
– The high stepping soldiers who stand guard, 24 hours daily and 365 days of the year, weren’t always here. Previously they were stationed at Lenin’s Tomb on Red Square but by Executive order of President Yeltsin the unit was moved, more appropriately, to stand vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
– The young men who stand guard are not soldiers in the traditional sense. Instead, they are comprised of the youngest members of the elite Kremlin Regiment whose duty is to protect the Kremlin and the president and prime minister of Russia. Most often their public face is here at the Tomb or inside the Kremlin walls and in attendance in the main palace during diplomatic events. However these young men are in training and some of them will someday advance to the even more elite corp that travels with and lives at the president’s (and/or prime minister) residence.
– Hero city is an honorary title awarded to CCCP cities distinguished for their heroic defense and perseverance through unusual suffering during the Great Patriotic War (WWII).
– The hero city designation was officially established on 08 May 1965 by a Decree of the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium, however the title was first used on 01 May 1945 when Leningrad (Saint Petersburg), Stalingrad (Volgograd), Sevastopol, and Odessa were called “hero cities.”
– To date the title has been awarded the cities of:
Leningrad (St Petersburg)
Brest Fortress (the official title is “Hero Fortress”).
– The president has the authority to add cities to the list within the guidelines of the statue.
Below: on the highway approach to Novorossiysk the sign reads:
город-герой (Hero City)
– The Hero City designation is not to be confused with the designation of City of Military Glory. A City of Military Glory is one where where soldiers displayed uncommon courage and heroism during the Great Patriotic War.
– A president may add cities to this list and several have been added during the Putin and Medvedev presidencies.
– The Cities of Military Glory are:
– By tradition a city may be awarded one or the other, but not both designations.