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Russia hosts World War II victory parade in the shadow of the coronavirus

Vintage T-34 tanks rehearsing in Moscow, June 20, 20Image copyright


Vintage T-34 tanks – a pillar of the Red Army in wartime – rehearse in Moscow

Russia will celebrate its biggest public holiday, Victory Day, on Wednesday with a military parade in Moscow scheduled for May 9.

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

It has been 75 years since the then USSR defeated Nazi Germany. The Second World War cost more than 20 million Soviet lives.

The lockdown on Moscow eased this month, allowing the parade, including tanks and long-range missiles, to continue.

The annual parade in Red Square – which begins this year at 10:00 a.m. (07:00 GMT) – is still an opportunity for President Putin to harness Russian patriotic feelings in a way reminiscent of Soviet times.

He restored Soviet symbols from the Cold War era and, in 2008, reintroduced heavy weapons into the parade. The St George’s black and gold wartime ribbon is particularly ubiquitous.

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

  • The fall of Nazi Berlin in pictures

The holding 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 Steve Rosenberg reports on empty red square

This year’s parade is special for Mr. Putin because in a week, Russia will hold a national vote on the constitutional amendments that should allow it to remain in power beyond 2024, when its current term expires.

  • Putin paves way for new presidential term

Technically, mass rallies are still banned in Moscow, which continues to register an stubbornly high number of new Covid-19 cases every day – more than 1,000 were reported on Tuesday, the day before the parade.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin urged residents to stay at home and watch the parade on TV.

Veterans invited to participate will be spaced apart at the observation stand, and authorities believe this forced social distancing means that they can watch without wearing a mask. All those invited had to be tested for the virus.

Participating military units were quarantined for weeks of rehearsals, avoiding contact with anyone not directly involved in the event.

The parade will feature approximately 13,000 military personnel, 234 armored vehicles and 75 aircraft performing the traditional air parade.

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

Military parades were also held in other cities, including “heroic cities” that experienced the most brutal fighting in the Soviet “Great Patriotic War” against the Nazis.

In the Russian Far East, Vladivostok organized a parade without spectators, although war veterans and officials are visible, local media reported. However, this year, 13 cities and large cities have chosen not to organize parades.

Mr. Putin personally identifies with the sacrifices made during the war: his father was seriously wounded in combat and his little brother Viktor died during the siege of Leningrad – present-day Saint Petersburg.

  • The Russian-Polish conflict over the start of the Second World War intensifies

Some major world leaders were to attend the canceled May 9 parade, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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

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