For the first time in 47 years, warplanes flew over the Kremlin on Thursday to celebrate Russia's independence day, marking the rebirth of the nation following decades of communist rule.
After a giant parade, President Vladimir Putin and dozens of dignitaries including his predecessor Boris Yeltsin watched from a stage in front of Lenin's tomb on Red Square as the 10 military jets flew in triangular formation overhead.
"On this day, we honor our motherland, our Russia. We honor the country of a thousand years history and unique heritage, the country which united on a huge space many peoples, territories and cultures," Putin said in an address to the participants in the festivities.
The holiday, formally known as the Day of Russia, has been celebrated on June 12 since 1990, when Russia adopted its declaration of state sovereignty in an attempt to gain more autonomy from the already wobbly Soviet Union.
Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian Federation a year later, and by the end of 1991, the Soviet Union no longer existed.
"This holiday of national unity is marked today in all regions of the country," Putin said. "It is a holiday for all of whom the Russian land is dear and near."
The Red Square ceremony Thursday featured a military parade of soldiers, sailors and airmen. The presidential band played and singers performed the most popular songs in Russian history, including tunes from the Soviet era.
Dressed in red, white and blue, athletes, dancers and gymnasts joined representatives of Russia's 89 regions formed columns to create a huge Russian flag stretching across the square.
Such parades were typical during the Soviet era, usually on Nov. 7, Revolution Day, when lines of soldiers accompanied tanks, missiles and other military hardware across Red Square. But such displays were mostly stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After the singers and musicians performed and Putin spoke, the 6,000 participants in the ceremony sang the national anthem as the jets screamed over Red Square.
Kremlin overflights were a regular feature three times a year in the early Soviet era: May Day, Air Force Day on Aug. 18 and Nov. 7, Revolution Day, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.
The last overflight was May Day, 1956. Ceremonial military flights were canceled after several accidents over Moscow, and all plane flights over the capital were banned.
By John Iams