All nations - and their leaders - have a duty to honour those who died in war

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2015, 1:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2015, 8:47am

Leaders of the countries that with the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany 70 years ago were conspicuously absent from the grandiose remembrance ceremony in Moscow at the weekend. The occasion was a chance to reflect on war and its consequences, but the conflict in Ukraine prompted a boycott by the US, Britain and France, which instead sent lesser officials. Of the 70 invited heads of state, only about two dozen showed up, President Xi Jinping being the most prominent on the podium beside Russia's Vladimir Putin. Geo-politics too often affects important events; it is to be hoped that they are absent when China marks the victory over Japan in September.

The war runs deep in the Russian psyche, most families having lost a member during the conflict. The 27 million Soviets killed defending their homeland and pushing the German army back to Berlin, played a crucial role in bringing peace to Europe. China, which suffered up to 20 million deaths from Japan's invasion, also greatly contributed to ending hostilities in Asia. Such ceremonies are not about triumphalism, but remembering the sacrifices that were made and, as Xi said, reminding the world not to make the same mistakes.

Yet Western leaders decided against going to Moscow, celebrating the event a day earlier, most in their own countries. On the 60th anniversary a decade ago, then US president George W. Bush led foreign dignitaries in showing solidarity with Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not attend Saturday's parade, but the following day laid wreaths and met Putin. Shunning the event was an extension of the sanctions that the US and the EU have imposed against Russia over its intervention in Ukraine. The measures, coupled with a sharp drop in oil and gas prices, have hurt the Russian economy.

China has been put in a delicate position, not wanting to harm ties with the West, but also aware of the advantages. Xi, meeting Putin on Friday, signed numerous trade and investment deals. It is all about finding the right balance - which is why, sanctions or not, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Moscow yesterday to keep dialogue alive.

Putin has accepted Xi's invitation to the September 3 ceremonies in Beijing. China has been tight-lipped on other invitees, although it has said relevant countries have been contacted. It is to be hoped all attend. The occasion will not be about enmity towards others, but to remember the fallen and ensure that such tragedies are never repeated.