Russia celebrates World War II victory parade in shadow of coronavirus

Old T-34 tanks testing in Moscow, June 20, 20Image copyright


Old T-34 tanks, a pillar of the wartime Red Army, test in Moscow

Russia will celebrate its biggest holiday, Victory Day, on Wednesday with a military parade due to take place on May 9.

President Vladimir Putin reluctantly postponed the big annual celebration due to the coronavirus pandemic.

75 years have passed since the USSR defeated Nazi Germany. World War II cost more than 20 million Soviet lives.

Moscow’s closure has been eased this month, allowing the parade to continue, with tanks and long-range missiles.

The annual parade, which begins this year at 10:00 (07:00 GMT), is always an occasion for President Putin to take advantage of Russian patriotic sentiments, in a way reminiscent of Soviet times.

It has restored Soviet symbols from the Cold War era, and in 2008 reintroduced heavy weapons into the parade. St. George’s black and gold ribbon is especially ubiquitous.

Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies (Great Britain, the United States, and the USSR) on May 8, 1945. But traditionally Russia and the other former Soviet republics mark victory on May 9.

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The celebration of the delayed event on June 24 commemorates the victory parade organized by the USSR in 1945.

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Media captionMay 9: BBC’s Steve Rosenberg reports from an empty Red Square

This year’s parade is special to Putin because within a week Russia will hold a national vote on constitutional amendments that are expected to pave the way for him to stay in power beyond 2024 when his current mandate expires.

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Technically, mass gatherings are still banned in Moscow, which continues to record a stubbornly high number of new Covid-19 cases every day – more than 1,000 were reported Tuesday, the eve of the parade.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin urged residents to stay home and watch the parade on television.

War veterans invited to attend will be separated at the observation post, and authorities believe this forced social distancing means they can look without wearing masks. All guests have been forced to test for the virus.

The participating military units have been quarantined for weeks of rehearsals, avoiding contact with anyone who is not directly involved in the event.

The parade will feature some 13,000 servicemen, 234 armored vehicles and 75 planes that carry out the traditional flypast.

It will include units from most of the former Soviet republics, as well as China, Mongolia, and Serbia.

Russia’s “heroic cities”, which saw the toughest fight in the Soviet “Great Patriotic War” against the Nazis, will also hold military parades. However, this year 13 cities and large towns chose not to organize parades.

Putin personally identifies with the sacrifices made in the war: his father was seriously wounded in combat and his younger brother Viktor died in the siege of Leningrad, today Saint Petersburg.

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Some of the world’s top leaders reportedly attended the parade canceled on May 9, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko are expected to attend this year, but few other European leaders will.