Absent regiments of tanks and battalions of missile carriers rumbling through Red Square, and even a single military aircraft in the skies above the Kremlin, Russia's World War Two Victory Parade on Tuesday was most unostentatious and muted in generations.
The only tank visible was a single T-34 medium tank of 1945-50 vintage. Other equipment passing in review in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed more appropriate to a European state or developing nation looking to economize on its military spending than a show of power by what Putin has described as the “second-most powerful army on Earth.”
There are farmers in Ukraine with more tanks than that pic.twitter.com/JTm5OMD8AJ— ThatBananamanFella (@victorious_Ukr) May 9, 2023
Russian army vehicles presented for inspection by the Russian leader, diplomatic legations and according to independent news reports moderate crowds of Muscovites under party-cloudy skies included a company of Tiger-M light armored cars, a scattering of BTR-90 armored personnel carriers, a platoon of Boomerang wheeled fighting vehicles, and Kamaz all-terrain trucks.
Some vehicles’ dashboards were mounted with video cameras showing young drivers intently piloting vehicles past Putin and the heads of Armenia, the Kyrgyz Republic and Belarus’ – all members of a small ground of states not having openly condemned Russia’s Feb. 2024 invasion of Ukraine.
Conspicuously absent from the parade were multiple major ground combat systems profiled in the past as evidence of Russian military superiority, including the T-14 Armata tank (billed by Moscow to be ‘superior to any tank on Earth), Smerch heavy rocket artillery pieces, air-droppable BRD armored personnel carriers, and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles.
Even planners in some respects gave the parade a 1950s-retro look, limiting heavy equipment on show to less than a dozen hulking, long range missiles. Enthused the announcer on the biggest missile on display, a 22-meter-long weapon, “Yars (the missile) is the main basis of mobile nuclear forces of Russia, the very most advanced system of guidance, mobility, abilities to deploy without being detected, allows the Yars to be a terrible force of nuclear deterrence.”
Victory parade planned— Darth Putin (@DarthPutinKGB) May 9, 2023
Victory parade reality pic.twitter.com/ziw3XTL7Lw
The military aircraft flyby was cancelled but parade organizers did not say why, the independent Russian news platform Astra reported. The Tuesday ceremony from start to finish lasted less than an hour with less than 100 vehicles participating. The largest-scale Red Square parades of the past saw close to 1,000 vehicles and fly-bys by 100s of aircraft and helicopters.
There was no evidence during the day’s ceremony of Kyiv interference, although some Ukrainian military Telegram channels had threatened the parade would be hit by drones.
During a brief-for-the-Kremlin boss’s five-minute address prior to the parade, Putin said Ukraine was a pawn under control under NATO states and that the Russian army was “defending people in Donbas” and “making sure of our security”.
The most humiliating military parade we saw in Moscow, ever. Seriously, it is so pathetic that I cannot stop laughing. Just one T-34-85 tank, the only tank. Like I said, Russia needs all of their functioning gear at the front. Ukraine completely brought Russia to the brink. #May9 pic.twitter.com/HgMU7ncMsk— (((Tendar))) (@Tendar) May 9, 2023
Other comments by the Russian leader seemed either tone-deaf or truth-denying towards tens of thousands of Ukrainian killed and millions made homeless in the Kremlin’s 14-month-old assault on Ukrainians’ right to have their own state and live in it: “Russia sees no enemy peoples…we want to see a future that is peaceful, free and stable. We believe that any (state) ideology of superior strength (dictating to other states) is inherently offensive, criminal and murderous.”
A Washington-led cabal of nations seeks to “suppress any centers of local development,” Putin said, because of policies of “aggression”, “Russophobia” and “intending to completely demolish the system of international rules and laws.”
Putin’s speech praised Soviet citizens contributing to Red Army success in 1945, and said “all peoples of the Soviet Union” were heroes responsible for WW2 victory. He did not mention Ukraine, the second-most populous Soviet republic at the time.
The Russian leader, likewise, was silent on US, British and other allied nations’ soldier deaths fighting Nazi Germany, nor did he make reference to the US’ wartime Lend Lease military assistance program delivering the Red Army critical volumes of aviation fuel, explosives, food, fighter jets, tanks and iron rations.
There was one tank at the parade in Moscow! T-34! We laugh all over Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/sjIz3WQX6l— Oleksiy Goncharenko (@GoncharenkoUa) May 9, 2023
Minutes before the parade started Ukraine’s Defense Ministry made public its latest estimate of the Russian military’s eviscerating losses since its Feb. 2022 invasion: 195,620 Russian soldiers killed and 3,734 tanks, 7,257 armored personnel carriers, 3,585 artillery systems, and 603 aircraft destroyed.
Ukraine’s Army General Staff on Tuesday morning reported the latest, overnight numbers of missile strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian targets: 35 weapons launched, all shot down.
Sergei Shoigu, Defense Minister and widely-criticized at home and abroad for the Russian military’s continuous failures in Ukraine, led the ceremonies bedecked in a blue-red parade uniform and riding a six-ton Aurus convertible, a Russia-manufactured copy of a Rolls Royce.
Putin’s remarks said nothing about the Russian military’s poor progress in the war against Ukraine. Russian state-run television showed him sitting next to older men dressed in military uniforms with World War Two decorations.
Troop formations from Russia’s army, air force, navy, airborne infantry, border troops, military academies, Rosgvardia anti-protest special police marched in serried columns 20 men wide and 10 men deep as they passed the reviewing stand. Most units were formed from military academy students, Russian media reported.
Contrasting with past, more ambitious May 9 parades, none of the formations used the goose step, an 18th century style of marching long a distinctive feature of Red Square parades, and still used by honor guards mounted at Lenin’s Tomb. Putin’s face perked up slightly at the appearance of a unit decked out in Caucasian Cossack uniforms.
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