The parade, much smaller than similar commemorations in the Soviet period but laden with significance and mixed messages, marked the 63rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, which is observed in Russia as Victory Day, a solemn state holiday.
It was intended both as a tribute to the dwindling ranks of surviving veterans and as a display of Russia’s efforts to revive armed forces made moribund by the Soviet Union’s collapse.
It was also widely described as a sign that the Kremlin wanted to show the world that it had recovered from the embarrassments of the 1990s and that its foreign policy had not softened in a transfer of presidential power this week.
But the goose-stepping footfalls, echoing in front of shop windows bearing products from Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, captured as well the contrasts institutionalized during eight years of rule by Vladimir V. Putin, the former spymaster and president who left office on Wednesday and returned to power as prime minister the following day.
Confident and flush with wealth, Mr. Putin’s Russia is led by men who embrace Soviet symbols and rituals while promising tax breaks and legislation to encourage a growing Russian investor class.
The passing columns were reviewed by the new president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, a lawyer who has spoken of nurturing civil liberties and a climate more conducive to small business, but who ascended to office in an election stage-managed by the Kremlin.
Many of the soldiers were in period dress, wearing uniforms reminiscent of those worn in celebrations that Mr. Putin led in the same place three years ago on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
This time there was a new president. Mr. Putin, his mentor, stood behind Mr. Medvedev as he addressed the crowd. When the troops began to march by while saluting the dignitaries, the former president stepped forward to receive the salutes at his protégé’s side.
In a sign that suggested that the Kremlin had not yet settled how to interpret the seven decades of Soviet history, Lenin’s mausoleum was temporarily blocked from view by a huge mural of Russia’s tri-colored national flag.
The mausoleum, where Lenin’s embalmed body lies in state, is normally a centerpiece of the square and perhaps the most potent Soviet symbol in the capital. The president and prime minister stood on a reviewing stand erected for the event, their backs to Lenin’s remains as they presided over a ritual created by Stalin.
Mr. Medvedev thanked the aging veterans in the reviewing stands — white-haired men and women in their 80s and 90s, many wearing blazers heavy with medals. Then he spoke of readiness and restraint.
“The history of world wars warns that armed conflicts do not erupt on their own,” he said. “They are fueled by those whose irresponsible ambitions overpower the interests of countries and whole continents, the interests of millions of people.”
He added, “We need to remember the lessons of that war and work every day so that such tragedies never happen again.”
The parade was the first display of armor and nuclear missile launchers on Red Square since 1990, and was followed by a flyover of 32 military planes, including strategic bombers.
The Kremlin’s decision to parade its military hardware has been a subject of competing interpretations, viewed variously as symbolic confirmation of Russia’s pride, or aggressiveness, as a marketing show of Russian arms, and as a nationalistic festival ordered by Mr. Putin, for Mr. Putin.
Mr. Putin insisted earlier in the week that the parade should not be viewed as “saber rattling.” “It is not a warlike gesture,” he said. “Russia is not threatening anyone.”
But it followed a year during which the Kremlin asserted its case against what it regarded as reckless American foreign policies. Mr. Putin has strongly protested an American-led plan to install a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. As tensions rose, Russia’s aging strategic bombers conducted international patrols, entered British airspace and approached American carrier groups on the high seas.
Russian state-controlled television stations have featured extensive coverage of small-scale exercises of Russia’s navy, and of supposedly new weapons systems. Mr. Putin, who firmly opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq five years ago, also endorsed a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against threats to Russian soil.
As a tribute to veterans and to the irrefutable role and sacrifices of the Soviet Union’s people in defeating Hitler, the events on the square were high spectacle. But the parade, broadcast on television here as a national triumph, also offered sights of the mixed condition of the once vaunted armed forces under Kremlin command.
Several of the infantry units, including marine and airborne units, were staffed with lean and fit young men who marched with bearing and precision. Others included troops who appeared to be in only fair condition, and several of the officers leading formations past the two Russian leaders were visibly overweight.
The United States expressed no alarm over the parade. Russia has become a leading global arms exporter again, but its wares are almost all items designed decades ago. A Pentagon spokesman, echoing a view common among military analysts, had characterized the planned military review as a hollow show of dated gear bearing fresh coats of paint.
“If they wish to take out their old equipment and take it for a spin and check it out,” said the spokesman, Geoff Morrell, “they’re more than welcome to do so.”
By C. J. CHIVERS; MOSCOW — NYT; May 10, 2008