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Russia Holds Victory Day Military Parade

Russia is celebrating its biggest public holiday, Victory Day, with a military parade in Moscow that was meant to be held on 9 May.

It is 75 years since the then USSR defeated Nazi Germany. World War Two cost more than 20 million Soviet lives.

President Vladimir Putin reluctantly postponed the big annual celebration because of the coronavirus pandemic. But it was rescheduled ahead of a key constitutional vote, which could allow him a further two terms in power.

Moscow’s lockdown eased this month, but mass gatherings technically remain banned. Soldiers taking part had to go into quarantine ahead of the parade.

The number of confirmed cases in Russia rose above 600,000 on Wednesday, with another 7,176 new infections reported over the previous 24 hours. This is, however, lower than in May, when the country reported more than 10,000 new cases a day for more than a week.

This year’s event is special for President Putin because in a week’s time Russia will hold a nationwide vote on constitutional amendments that are expected to pave the way for him to stay in power beyond 2024, when his current term expires.

The annual parade in Red Square is always an occasion for Mr Putin to harness Russian patriotic feelings, in a way reminiscent of Soviet times. He has restored Cold War-era Soviet symbols, and in 2008 he reintroduced heavy weaponry in the parade. The black-and-gold wartime St George’s ribbon is especially ubiquitous.

Nazi Germany ended all its military operations at 23:01 Central European Time on 8 May 1945. Russia, former Soviet Union states and some eastern European nations celebrate victory on 9 May, as – because of the change in time zone – the surrender came early in the morning the next day for those countries.

Holding the delayed event on 24 June commemorates the victory parade staged by the USSR back in 1945. “Our duty is to remember that the Soviet people bore the brunt of fighting Nazism,” the president said in his speech. “It was namely our people who were able to defeat the horrible, total evil.” Mr Putin identifies on a personal level with the sacrifices made in the war: his father was seriously wounded in combat and his infant brother Viktor died in the siege of Leningrad – today’s St Petersburg.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin has urged residents to stay at home and watch the parade on TV amid the ongoing pandemic. The capital remains the epicentre of the Russian outbreak and the number of new infections there remains stubbornly high.

All those invited have been required to be tested for the virus, and social distancing rules were put in place on the viewing stand for war veterans invited to attend – though many were pictured standing close to one another without masks.

The military units taking part have been in quarantine during weeks of rehearsals, avoiding contact with anyone not directly involved in the event. The parade features some 13,000 military personnel, 234 armoured vehicles, and 75 aircraft performing the traditional flypast. Units were taking part from most of the ex-Soviet republics, as well as from China, Mongolia and Serbia.

Military parades were also being held in other cities, including “hero cities” that saw the heaviest fighting in the Soviet “Great Patriotic War” against the Nazis.
In Russia’s Far East, Vladivostok held a parade without spectators, although war veterans and officials were visible, local media reported. However, this year 13 cities and big towns opted not to stage parades.

Some major world leaders were to have attended the cancelled 9 May parade, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko both attended the parade on Wednesday, but they were among the few leaders who did. The president of Kyrgyzstan did not attend the event after two members of his delegation tested positive on arriving in Russia.