Mightily armed Russia relishes its annual show of strength

Russia rolls out high-tech new battle tank
Russia rolls out high-tech new battle tank

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Story highlights

  • Russia puts troops, military hardware on display for Victory Day
  • Soviet Union suffered unimaginable losses in World War II, still keenly felt

Moscow (CNN)Every day for a week, Moscow has been invaded by a vast army.

Tanks have rumbled through the streets. Missile launchers and rockets, alongside thousands of troops, have blocked traffic across the Russian capital.
Rehearsals for this year's Victory Day parade have been in full swing. And proud Muscovites have been relishing the spectacle.
One revealing comment caught my attention. It was from a woman named Lidya who was watching a practice parade pass by in the center of town.
"I feel proud for my country when I see all these military vehicles because I am not afraid that someone might attack us," she said.
Then she added: "It is necessary for others to be afraid of us."
Now that might strike some as unnecessarily paranoid in A country as powerful and strong as Russia. It is a country armed to the teeth with the world's biggest nuclear arsenal, one that annexed Crimea last year and one that was sanctioned by the West for its alleged support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. And all this under the no-holds-barred leadership of President Vladimir Putin.
But it is, nevertheless, a widespread sentiment that comes to the fore in Russia every year at this time.
Victory Day is, of course, a commemoration of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
But in Russia it's so much more than that.
The Soviet Union, of which Russia was the bulk, paid an unimaginable sacrifice for its victory. More than 26 million people were killed in the war, almost a quarter of the entire population.
Compare that with the American or British losses of about 450,000 each and you get a sense of the different order of magnitude of Russia's losses.
Russians say that not a single family was untouched, and they mean it.
What's more, even 70 years since the conflict ended the country is still quite literally burying its dead.
A few weeks back, I met a group of young Russian volunteers in the forests outside St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad.
Every spring, when the snows have melted, they give up their time to dredge the former battlefields where young Soviet soldiers died by the tens of thousands trying to break the Nazi siege of the city.
Most were simply left where they fell, covered with a thin layer of soil, and forgotten.
Now you can simply pick barbed wire, bones and bullets out of the mud.
Searching for Russia's dead WWII soldiers
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The Russian defense ministry says as many as 4 million soldiers remain unaccounted for.
It's astonishing, and it shows how close, how vivid is what Russians call The Great Patriotic War.
It also helps us understand why for Russians like Lidya, Victory Day is not just about remembering the past, but about projecting power too, and sending a message, a warning to anyone who dares threaten Russia again.