Well, first of all, WWII was not at all the same thing as WWI, Anne. It was NOT about freeing the German people from Hitler's thumb. It was about protected ALL of Europe from a monster bent on world domination, and protecting the Jews in particular from genocide.
No offense, but as far as WWII goes? Screw the German people. They voted for that monster - they put him in office. They saw how he invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc...and did nothing to stop him. And they bought into his propaganda that it was all the Jews fault that they were in the dire straits they were in. And as much as they protested that they had no idea what was going on? Well, I find it hard to believe that disappearance of a few million Jews...not to mention the boxcars full of prisoners with gold stars stitched to their clothing...and the stench of burning flesh coming out of those crematoriums wouldn't tip them off that...erm....'something was amiss.' Sure, they didn't know. They didn't WANT to know. Because knowing would require them to rise up and DO something.
So the 'German people' are at the end of a VERY long list of people my heart goes out to as a result of WWII. Germany started the war, and frankly, they got exactly what they deserved. My sympathy goes to the Jews, the Catholic clergy who tried to protect Jews, the gypsies, the Czechs, the Poles, the Russians, the Brits, the Dutch, and the French....among many others. The German people are at the tale end of that particular list, in my book.
And by the way, did you know that 27 MILLION Russians lost their lives during WWII - fighting on OUR side? 27 MILLION. Not a small number. And did you know that the Nazis surrounded St. Petersburg for over two years, and starved/froze out a city full of innocent civilians? And that in one year alone, over 650,000 residents of St. Petersburg died at the hands of the Nazis - either through enemy fire, starvation, or freezing to death?
In short - I can appreciate that you don't like Stalin. Who does? But that CERTAINLY doesn't put Russia into the same boat as Germany where WWII is concerned. Where WWII is concerned, Russia made some huge sacrifices - perhaps more than we did, to be honest, because we came in late.
Now, as for the Cold War and the fact that as a child, you were scared to death? Well, that was YOUR government scaring you. Not the Russians. And you know what? Russian children were being scared by THEIR government, just the same as we were! They ALSO were told as children that the U.S. was evil, and had our finger on the button...and that WE just couldn't wait to set off the Apocalypse. You honestly think it was any different being a Russian child than being an American child, in this regard? If you talk to people who grew up in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, you will quickly discover that they were taught the exact same thing as us: "WE would NEVER set off a nuclear war, kiddies...but those evil (Russians/Americans - pick one) - now THEY would do it in a heartbeat!"
Propaganda. Both sides used it - not just them.
And meanwhile, BOTH sides where building up massive nuclear arsenals, the likes of which are practically unimaginable. So big that either ONE of us could have destroyed life on this planet.
Finally - yes, Russia IS a fairly bleak country, by comparison to here. Russia has a very LONG and very bloody history. We, in comparison, are a very young country, and have not had the opportunity to learn the lessons that Russia - and indeed EVERY European nation has learned. We have never had bombs dropped on our civilian population. We have never had our country invaded like many European countries have. We have never had our government overthrown. We have never had famine on the scale that some European countries have experienced.
So to say that Red Square could 'use a little greenery', to THEM would probably sound like the rantings of a spoiled teenager who did not appreciate the struggle endured by his grandparents. Red Square is their HISTORY. It is the heart of their NATION. And having stood in that square on numerous occasions (I walked through it on the way to work every day for a year), I have to say that is is breathtaking...and embodies much of their history in a uniquely Russian manner. You have the Kremlin on one side - the center of power (for that region of Russia) long before the Communists co-opted it for the Soviet government. Inside the Kremlin then, for many years you had the Soviet government...sitting side by side with the beautiful Russian Orthodox churches that were there LONG before...inside those same Kremlin walls.
You have St. Basils...a beautiful monument to God...build by Ivan the Terrible...arguably the most brutal ruler in all of Russian history.
You have G.U.M. - Russia's largest department store....only a few feet away from Lenin's Tomb.
This is the beauty of Russian history & culture - the dichotomy of the thing.
Now...I am not saying that Russia is the most beautiful country on earth. Although frankly, St. Petersburg is positively breathtaking.
But then, the U.S. isn't so beautiful either, to be honest. We are a 'business country' - we have no centuries-old churches, ruins that help us to span the ages in our minds, etc. In sort, we have alot of big buildings, a few monuments less that 200 years old, and some very nice national parks. But then...Russia has some beautiful scenery too, out in the countryside. I mean, it's a MASSIVE country...and they have TONS of natural beauty. And even some wonderful man-made beauty - the many Orthodox churches, as one example. Shoot...even communism produced some uniquely Russian man-made beauty. The ring line stations on the Moscow metro are positively STUNNING, for example. I think it might be the only country in the world where tour groups have actual tours of the city metro system, and don't just use it to get somewhere else!
But if all you think about when you think of Russia is the crackerbox flats around Moscow...well, that's like thinking of the U.S. solely in terms of the squalid slums that are...shall we say, 'off the beaten tourist track'....but which we all know make up a large portion of Washington D.C.
Russia is a country that has endured great struggle. And that struggle, quite frankly, shows. But out of that struggle, it has also produced some amazing beauty - Rublev and the other Russian iconographers...Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and the other Russian composers.... Tolstoy's literature and Pushkin's poetry are world treasures....the list goes on and on.
Even the struggle against communism produced some splendid writers - Boris Pasternak (who wrote Doctor Zhivago) being one of them.
There is alot of good there. Just like with any other place. It's not what I think you are picturing it as.