Putin snubs Ukraine leadership in WWII salute

Putin snubs Ukraine leadership in WWII salute
Several thousand students and staff at the nearby Moscow State University also signed an open letter to President Vladimir Putin opposing the statue.

MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin on Fiday congratulated "citizens" of Ukraine but snubbed its leaders on the 70th anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in WWII amid a deep feud between Moscow and Kiev.

Putin pointedly sidestepped addressing Ukraine's pro-Western authorities as he issued a congratulatory statement to the governments of other former Soviet republics that fought alongside Moscow in WWII.

Putin also congratulated the people but not the government of pro-Western Georgia - against which Moscow fought a brief war in 2008.

"The great victory was a common, invaluable achievement of our peoples who fought shoulder-to-shoulder against a cruel enemy and saved the world from Nazism," the statement said.

"Today our debt is to preserve the memory of the fallen heroes, look after the war veterans and ensure there is no repeat of the tragic events of the past."

Putin is gearing up to host a grandiose Red Square parade Saturday in front of some 20 world leaders but Western heads of state are staying away amid a standoff with Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Ukraine has altered the way it is commemorating the WWII anniversary by turning May 8 into a day to remember the war dead and planning a low-key "March of Peace" in the capital Kiev for the traditional Soviet-era holiday on May 9.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow have plummeted since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine after the toppling of its Kremlin-backed leader and was accused of masterminding a brutal separatist conflict that has killed over 6,200 people.

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