Few facial masks were visible in Red Square when Vladimir Putin welcomed foreign leaders and war veterans, now in their 90s, at the country’s Victory Day military parade, in which the number of coronavirus cases in Russia exceeded 600,000.
Thousands of Muscovites ignored calls to stay home and crowded on Tverskaya Street and near the Kremlin to see tanks, artillery, and ICBM passing through Moscow and Red Square, where the parade marked the 75th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazi Germany. .
The Kyrgyz president, who had traveled to Moscow for the parade, said he did not attend because two members of his delegation tested positive for Covid-19.
When the restored Soviet T-34 tanks reached the square, Russian medical officials announced that they had counted 7,176 new cases of coronavirus, including 811 in Moscow, bringing the country’s total to 606,881 cases. Officially, it was reported that 154 people died on the last day of the disease.
More than 20 cities across Russia canceled their festivities, saying they were concerned about the health of veterans and the public. But key cities like Moscow have made progress, even seeming to reduce coronavirus restrictions to prepare for the parade. Large gatherings are still banned for fear of spreading the disease.
In Red Square, Kremlin officials said they had screened all Covid-19 attendees. More than 80 veterans, some who flanked Putin in the stands of the parade, had been quarantined for two weeks in a sanatorium in the Moscow region before the parade.
Spectators were separated by empty seats, but otherwise the parade differed little from the outsized display of Russian military power that it has become in recent decades.
In a speech, Putin did not mention the coronavirus and made largely conciliatory comments that only agreed to his sharpest allegations released in English earlier this week that the West was rewriting the history of the war.
“Our debt is to remember … that the Soviet people bore the brunt of the fight against Nazism,” Putin said in a speech, as a war veteran raised his fist in the background.
“This is the main, pure and unaltered truth about war. We must protect and defend it, transmit it to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Today’s military parade is in honor of this sacred truth, in honor of the outstanding generation of victors who determined the outcome of the entire Second World War. “
Putin, who has appeared largely on television from a windowless room seen as his “bunker” since April, shook hands with war veterans and met with friendly leaders from mainly former Soviet countries, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan , Moldova and Uzbekistan. as well as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was forced to delay the parade from May 9 for more than a month due to the coronavirus epidemic, which has reversed a busy political season in Russia during which Putin is trying to change the constitution in order to remain in the Kremlin until 2036, if he so chooses.
Online voting for the referendum on the plan will begin in less than 24 hours, and the Kremlin expects a boost from the patriotic spectacle, which featured an air force flyover and soldiers dressed in WWII uniforms.
Key guests such as Xi Jinping of China and Emmanuel Macron of France had canceled, downgrading the global diplomacy showcase event that the Kremlin hoped would be the anniversary.
But those who made the trip were excited. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who was harshly criticized for holding his own May 9 parade despite the coronavirus epidemic, joined his two sons in the stands of the parade. Serbian leader Alexandar Vučić hit his chest as a delegation of soldiers marched on the podium.
Under Putin, the parade has become the country’s main political party and has acquired a religious aura.
Earlier this week, Putin attended the inauguration of a new military cathedral run by the Russian military that is partially dedicated to the memory of the war.
The stairs have been molded from scrap metal salvaged from Nazi tanks, and items purchased include Hitler’s cap, according to the defense ministry. Plans to mount a mosaic with images of Putin and other top Russian political and military officials were scrapped after the mosaic images were leaked.