MOSCOW (AP) – A massive Russian military parade postponed by the coronavirus pandemic will roll across Red Square this week to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, although Russia remains a steady register an increase in infections.
President Vladimir Putin’s insistence on holding the parade not only reflects his desire to show Russian power, but also to reinforce patriotic sentiments a week before a constitutional referendum, which would allow him to remain in office until 2036.
The Victory Day parade is normally held on May 9, the country’s most important secular holiday. This year’s date, Wednesday, June 24, coincides with the day in 1945 when the first Red Square parade was held following the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Soviet Union and its allies.
The Soviet Union lost as many as 27 million people in what it called the Great Patriotic War, and the tremendous suffering and sacrifice of the time left a deep scar in the Russian psyche.
Victory Day is a rare event in the division of the nation after Soviet history revered by all political parties, and the Kremlin has used that sentiment to encourage patriotic pride and underscore Russia’s role as a world power.
The show is particularly important to Putin this year. The Kremlin hopes that a week before the nationwide vote of 1 July on constitutional changes, it will help to gain public support, effectively resetting the term of office, and seeking another six-year term if desired.
“For Putin, the parade has a symbolic meaning, a symbol that the epidemic is over, so votes can be taken,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based independent political analyst. And more importantly, Victory Day serves as a positive symbol of people’s unification, economic mobilization, strong leadership and consolidation – the things Putin wants to claim credit for. “
The plebiscite was initially scheduled for April 22, but like the parade, it was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. When the first signs of a slowdown in the contagion appeared, Putin protested the vote before July 1 because he wanted to consolidate his power before the economic consequences of the pandemic further eroded his popularity.
Its approval rating plummeted to 59% in April, its lowest level in more than two decades, according to the Levada Center, the country’s top independent poll.
“Three months later, the ratings will drop as the economy goes downhill,” said Oreshkin. “It is essential to vote now.”
While the pandemic has broken the Kremlin’s hope of getting top world leaders to attend the parade, the heads of several ex-Soviet countries and the Serbian president will still show up. The celebration will feature 14,000 troops, about 300 military vehicles and 75 fighters in a representation of the country’s military might.
Russian officials have insisted that all necessary precautions have been taken to protect the health of its troops, elderly veterans and foreign guests during the parade.
Russia has the third highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world after the United States and Brazil, and still reports about 8,000 new infections every day. The reported death toll of viruses is nearly 8,200, a number that experts say is far too low for a country with more than 590,000 confirmed cases.
With this in mind, the mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, has warned the audience not to watch the show. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also advised Moscow residents, who usually gather on central avenues to watch the tanks and missiles pass by, to watch it on TV this time.
While the parade is politically important to the Kremlin, Putin’s persistence in detaining him despite the contagion risks also reflects his strong personal preoccupation with World War II.
The 67-year-old Russian leader views the war from a deeply emotional angle, often evoking dramatic memories of his parents, Vladimir and Maria, and his brother Viktor, nicknamed Vitya, when the Nazis besieged his hometown of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, 2 1/2 years.
“For my parents, the war meant the terrible trials of the siege of Leningrad where my 2-year-old brother Vitya died,” Putin wrote in an article published in the US magazine The National Interest. “It was the place where my mother miraculously survived. Despite being exempted from active duty, my father volunteered to defend his hometown. ‘
The Kremlin has tapped that history to collect patriotism at home, but has also regularly used it against foreign opponents.
For years, Russian officials have punished the West for failing to condemn the annual demonstrations in Estonia and Latvia honoring Waffen-SS veterans, as well as Ukraine’s admiration for nationalist leaders who sided with the Nazis in the war.
Amid a bitter tension in relations with Poland, Putin turned to Warsaw this year and denounced his pre-war leaders of collusion with Nazi Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia in 1938.
Poland criticized Putin’s article as part of its “information war” against the West.
Putin provoked outrage in Warsaw and the Baltic States, and also resolutely defended a 1939 pact between Soviet leader Josef Stalin and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who cut Poland and the Baltic States to pieces. World War II started when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, a week after the pact was signed. On September 17, the Soviet Red Army rolled into Poland from the east.
Putin echoed a Soviet-era argument, describing the deal as Stalin’s attempt to buy time to strengthen the country’s defenses, arguing that Moscow had no other choice after Britain and France took Soviet proposals for a military alliance. had stopped. Nazi Germany broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
Putin has pointed out that every seventh Soviet citizen died in the war, with the United Kingdom losing one in 127 and the United States losing one in 320.
“The Soviet Union and the Red Army, whatever someone is trying to prove today, have made the most important and crucial contribution to the defeat of Nazism,” Putin wrote in The National Interest.
Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.