One solitary ageing tank, no fly-past and just a sprinkling of soldiers – Russia’s growing difficulties in the conflict in Ukraine were clear to see at its Victory Day today.
Kremlin despot Vladimir Putin was guarded by snipers as he presided over a radically scaled down ceremony to mark the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.
Some commentators believe the Russian leader’s soaring paranoia meant he sent a body double for parts of the parade in Moscow.
Amid fears of Ukrainian sabotage, many cities scrapped revelries in a blow to Putin.
The ceremony in Moscow’s Red Square – which traditionally showcases Russian military might – was nothing like the size of other years.
One old T-34 Second World War tank, compared with dozens in previous years and hardly any military personnel, reflected the losses being suffered by Russia in Ukraine.
The event was also closed to the public this year, after the recent drone strike on the Kremlin.
Putin himself cut an isolated figure, with his nuclear briefcase carried by an aide as he arrived at Red Square.
Standing in front of the Kremlin’s top military leaders, the Russian President delivered a short speech warning civilisation was again at a “decisive turning point”, with a “real war” being waged against Russia.
But he claimed his country was defending its sovereignty – despite the fact it was he who ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
And he again likened Ukraine’s democratically elected government to the Nazis defeated in World War Two, accusing the West of forgetting who defeated the Germans.
He added he was proud of soldiers who were participating in what he calls Russia’s “special military operation”.
Putin said: “There is no cause stronger in the world than our love for our armed forces. There’s nothing in the world stronger than our love for the motherland.”
He claimed Russia wanted a “peaceful” future, and blamed the West for sowing seeds of “hatred and Russophobia”.
Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz responded: “Putin is parading his soldiers, tanks and missiles today.
“We must not be intimidated by such power plays. Let’s remain steadfast in our support for Ukraine – for as long as it takes.”
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko was among just a small handful of foreign leaders who attended the parade, which had fewer soldiers than usual and no fly-past.
In a briefing, the UK’s military of defence said: “‘Six Russian regions, occupied Crimea, and 21 cities have cancelled their 9 May Victory Day parades citing security concerns.”
An MoD spokesman said: “The timing of a recent drone strike on the Kremlin, just days before Victory Day, highlights Russia’s increasing vulnerability to such attacks.
“This has likely raised the threat perception of the Russian leadership over the Victory Day events.
“Furthermore, the potential for protests and discontent surrounding the war in Ukraine may have also influenced the decisions to cancel or scale down celebrations.”
Viktor Muchnik, a former boss of a Siberian TV network, who has left the country, said the Russian state was less concerned about a terror attack than it was about damage to its image.
The lack of pomp comes amid sabotage in Russia. Two fires hit fuel storage depots, one near a bridge leading to the occupied Crimean Peninsula, a blast derailed freight trains while power lines were blown up.
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