l WOULD Britain and the United States and their allies have won the Second World War without the Soviet Union? The answer is probably that without the Soviet's heroic efforts the war would have lasted much longer and that possibly the Western powers might not have been capable of an outright victory. Obviously, one cannot be sure at this remove, but of one thing one can be quite certain, that the Soviet Union paid a greater price in the loss of lives and devastation of lands than either Britain or the United States. It is for that reason that the celebrations in Moscow next Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War are so important to the Russian government and people. Among President Putin's guests for the military parade in Red Square will be President Bush, President Chirac, Chancellor Schroder and, presumably, the newly-elected prime minister of Britain. Absent, however, will be the presidents of Russia's neighbours Lithuania and Estonia who have declined their invitations because for them the end of World War II was the beginning of their 50-year domination by the Soviet Union. The President of Latvia, the third Baltic state then under Soviet control, has decided to attend after receiving a letter from President Bush in which he specifically referred to the Soviet Union's occupation and annexation and imposition of Communism.
Moscow is said to be furious over Mr Bush's intervention, and understandably so. Surely the American President could have curbed his interfering nature on just this one occasion? To do so would have cost him nothing internationally and might even have helped to keep US-Russian relations on a more even keel than of late. As it is, he seems inclined to exacerbate differences by also paying visits to Latvia and Georgia. As a prominent Russian commentator observed yesterday: It's as if Putin would go to Washington with a stopover in Havana and then fly on to Pyongyang.