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‘Security concerns and moral issues’ What happened to the usually lavish Victory Day parade in Red Square this year?
Less than a week before the anticipated May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square, two drones attacked the Kremlin. Even before the incident, the authorities spoke of canceling some May 9 festivities, including the Immortal Regiment procession in central Moscow, in which people carry pictures of relatives who served the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Victory Day parades, normally lavish spectacles, have been shrinking in size for several years. This year, “security considerations” were just one more reason the authorities gave when explaining the cancellations. Independent journalist cooperative Bereg analyzed the Kremlin’s and the Defense Ministry’s shifting plans and catalogued the differences in this year’s diminished celebration. With Bereg’s permission, Meduza shares an abridged version of their report in English.
As of last March, Russia’s Defense Ministry was still preparing to hold the kind of Victory Day parade Russia had lately become accustomed to: a lavish display, albeit a bit smaller than last year’s, with more than 10,000 service members and 125 pieces of military equipment. In addition to the flagship event in Moscow’s Red Square, parades were also in the works for 28 other cities.
By early April, those plans were starting to change. Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on April 3 that there would be enhanced security measures around the parade, but provided no details. Soon after, the authorities, citing “security concerns,” were canceling planned parades in Kursk, Belgorod, and Bryansk — all of which border Ukraine. “I can tell you that there won’t be a parade, so as not to provoke the enemy with a large accumulation of equipment and military personnel,” said Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov on April 5.
By mid-April, the authorities had canceled parades in Sevastopol, Simferopol, and Kerch in annexed Crimea. On May 9, Russian-appointed head of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov posted on Telegram that, “as expected,” Victory Day would only be celebrated again “after the end of the ‘special military operation.’”
Parades were also canceled in parts of Russia located far from the frontlines in Ukraine — in Kaluga, Ryazan, Oryol, Lipetsk, Surgut, Nizhnevartovsk, Khanty-Mansiysk, Tyumen, Krasnodar, Sochi, and Velikie Luki, among others. Pskov governor Mikhail Vedernikov said that “security concerns” and “moral and ethical issues” contributed to the decision to cancel large-scale May 9 celebrations. Vedernikov added that participants in the “special military operation” who are now hospitalized in the Pskov region hear the sound of fireworks “in a completely different way.” The region plans to use the funds saved on fireworks to buy things “that participants in the ‘special military operation’ need the most.” The governor has also moved the Immortal Regiment procession to an online format.
In the three months leading up to Victory Day, the Defense Ministry selected military schools and academies to participate in the parade, and the schools themselves then selected their most physically fit and academically successful cadets. Rehearsals in Red Square were scheduled for May 4 and May 7.
But in the early hours of May 3, two drones attacked Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin residence. (The Russian president wasn’t there, and the authorities claimed that the building sustained no damage.) Moscow blamed the attack on Ukraine’s secret services, but Kyiv denied any involvement.
The attack nevertheless seems to have influenced the Kremlin’s parade plans. A cadet selected to participate in the parade told Bereg that, after the drone strike, the cadets were given evacuation plans from Red Square. It’s unclear whether such plans existed in prior years. Another cadet who spoke to Bereg said he was sure that “air defense forces will prevent anything” from happening, but added that “it would really make a splash if something fell down anyway.” Both cadets told Bereg that they’re ready to fight in Ukraine.
The Victory Parade in central Moscow took place without incident. 8,000 people marched in Red Square — about 2,000 fewer than planned, but those numbers were in keeping with parades from a decade or two ago. Some 530 participants of the Russia–Ukraine war were among the marchers. Russia, meanwhile, launched a new wave of missile strikes on Ukraine, starting on May 8.
A freelance photographer who shot several past Victory Day parades for Russia’s Defense Ministry told Bereg that on May 4, after the drone attack, she and her colleague were forbidden to photograph any parade participants. “They suggested that publishing videos and photos that might reveal the identities of service members and certain troops isn’t worth it. It’s a security threat to service members and their loved ones,” she told Bereg.
In 2022, no foreign leaders were present at the Moscow Victory Day parade, which took place two-and-a-half months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin blamed this on the “non-anniversary year,” since 2022 was 77 years after the Allies’ victory in World War II. This year, Peskov gave the same reason when explaining why the Kremlin didn’t send out any special invitations. In recent “non-anniversary” years, though, foreign leaders known to have attended Victory Day parades in Moscow included the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Serbian President Alexander Vučić, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon. After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, European leaders (apart from those from the Balkans) largely stopped participating in Moscow parades.
In late March, the Kremlin reported that Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov would visit Moscow on May 8–9. It wasn’t clear whether he planned to attend the parade itself. On May 8, the eve of the holiday, it turned out that other Eurasian leaders were also coming to Moscow for a “working visit.” These guests included Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, the president of Kazakhstan Kasym-Jomart Tokayev, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and the president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, also traveled to Moscow, but rushed back to Belarus before the official Victory Day breakfast, with an ambulance following him to the airport.
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The parade featured 51 pieces of military equipment instead of the planned 125, according to independent military analyst Oliver Alexander. There were only three tanks, all made in the 1950s, compared to last year’s 20, and there were no infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers on display — that equipment is, presumably, in use at the front.
The scale of the parade has been in decline since 2020 (the 75th anniversary of the Allies’ victory in World War II), when it featured more than 14,000 participants and 234 pieces of military equipment. This year’s parade also lacked an airshow. The Defense Ministry didn’t announce an airshow ahead of time, and when journalists asked the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov about it in late April, he didn’t give a definitive answer. Last year’s plan to feature 77 military aircraft over Red Square was canceled at the last minute due to “unfavorable weather conditions.”
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