Putins Victory Day parade flop as previous celebrations put event to shame

Russia alleges the Kremlin has been hit by drone strike

Russian military parades are typically among the grandest displays of firepower in the world. The top event on the calendar is Soviet Victory Day on May 9, marking the defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War, but this year the show was noticeably scaled back.

At the foot of the Kremlin walls addressing the crowd on Red Square, Vladimir Putin cried: “To Russia! To our brave armed forces! To Victory!” He took centre stage despite claims a body double would be sent in his place.

Security concerns within the motherland have ramped up over the past week after Moscow released a video of what it claimed was an assassination attempt on Putin by drones controlled by Ukraine.

These concerns are also thought to be behind Tuesday’s muted celebrations. But the harsh reality of heavy Russian losses after 14 months of war also looms large.

Just 51 vehicles took part this year – less than half the 131 total last year just over a month into the invasion, and merely a quarter of the 200 that rolled down the streets of Moscow for the 75th anniversary back in 2020.

Despite being the country’s most important national holiday, over 21 cities called off their military parades altogether. The main event, however, is Moscow.

According to Russian state news agency TASS, 11,000 troops marched in unison across the Red Square last year. This year, it claims “over 8,000” took part, as 33 columns were reduced to 30. Associated Press noted that “for the first time in years, the parade ended in under an hour.”

The differences were even more stark in hardware terms. On Soviet Victory Day 2021, the military flypast involved 76 aircraft, including Su-35S fighters, Mi-35 attack helicopters, and no less than three aerobatic groups.

In 2022 the air parade was cancelled due to “bad weather”. It was also cancelled this year but without any explanation.

In previous years, Russia was keen to flaunt its technological prowess with columns of the latest T-14 Armata and T-90 tanks – with some even remote-controlled. This year there was only one.

Flying the red Soviet flag, the World War 2 era T-34-85 advanced alone. The Ukrainian defence ministry was quick to ridicule the sight, posting a mock tribute online with the caption: “To the loneliest little tank in the world, best of luck!”

Missile launchers and air defence units featured as expected, however – notably including three of Russia’s RS-24 YARS thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, as many as were seen in previous years.

In the beginning, it also seemed as if Putin’s allies had snubbed him personally, with only Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov expected to attend. But by the end, the familiar roster of ex-Soviet state leaders, including Alexander Lukashenko, were seen beside the Russian leader.

No official reason for the stripped-down celebrations has been put forward, but the parade comes at a time when the Russian state claims to be under threat.

Last week Moscow alleged two Ukrainian drones hit the Kremlin in the middle of the night, in what it called an attempt on Putin’s life. President Zelensky has denied his side was behind the attack.

Russia ramped up its drone attacks on cities across Ukraine in retaliation for the “terrorist act” regardless, Kyiv coming under fire four times in the past eight days. A barrage of 25 cruise missiles breached the country’s airspace just hours before Victory Day celebrations began.

A major security lockdown came into effect in Russia on the day, with curbs introduced on ride-sharing services and civilian drones in many cities. Officials in regions that cancelled parades have mostly cited vague “security concerns”.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, however, governor of the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, said: “There will be no parade in order not to provoke the enemy with a large amount of equipment and soldiers crowded in the centre of Belgorod.”

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