Amid pomp and propaganda, Russia holds Victory Day military parade as war rumbles on

In Europe


Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022.

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

Russia kicked off its 79th “Victory Day” military parade on Thursday as the war with Ukraine rumbles on into a third year.

The annual event on May 9 commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II and sees thousands of Russian troops and pieces of military hardware paraded through Red Square in Moscow, with other events held throughout Russia.

The parade is an opportunity for not only pomp, pride and ceremony, but also propaganda, with the Kremlin keen to cast parallels between the Red Army’s victory in 1945 and the current conflict in Ukraine that is now well into its third year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, commander-in-chief of Russia’s armed forces, is inspecting the parade for the 21st time as more than 9,000 people and 70 pieces of equipment are on display.

Russian paratroopers march during the Victory Day Red Square Parade on May 9, 2023 in Moscow, Russia. Moscow marks Victory Day with a parade after a new wave of strikes across Ukraine. 

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“The foot column includes regiments, battalions and companies by types and branches of troops, crews from Suvorov [military school], Nakhimov [naval school], cadet and music schools, Youth Army men, women — military personnel, Cossacks [cadets] and a combined military orchestra,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian news agencies last week.

He said participants in the “special military operation” — code for the Russian war against Ukraine — are also marching this year. The parade ended with a flyover of the Russian Air Force’s aerobatics teams.

Other cities across Russia are also holding ceremonies and celebrations, the defense minister said, with an estimated 150,000 people and 2,500 types of weapons and military equipment involved.

The Yars ballistic missiles take part in a rehearsal of the Victory Day parade in Moscow, Russia, May 7, 2022.

Bai Xueqi | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko and the leaders of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Cuba, among officials from other allied countries, are reportedly on the guest list. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said “unfriendly countries” were not invited to the parade.

Addressing the troops, guests and crowds at the parade, President Putin said Russia would do everything to avoid a global confrontation but would “not allow anyone to threaten us.” He reiterated that the country’s strategic nuclear forces were always combat-ready.

Worsening relations with the West

Russia’s relations with the West were deteriorating well before its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 but the fractures have deepened since. As a result of the war, international sanctions on Russia have multiplied and more entrenched and divided global alliances have emerged, pitting NATO countries against Russia and its allies, such as North Korea, Iran and China.

A woman looks through the rubble of a building destroyed by bombing in the town of Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region, on April 11, 2024, amid the Russian invassion in Ukraine. (Photo by Anatolii STEPANOV / AFP) (Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian gains

This year’s parade comes amid incremental gains for Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, with another expected large-scale offensive on the horizon in early summer, according to military officials.

In the last few weeks, Ukrainian forces have been forced to retreat in some areas, opening up the way for Russian forces to advance in areas around Avdiivka in Donetsk, a city captured in February in a significant victory for Russia. On Wednesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that another two villages were seized (Russia uses the term “liberated”) in Donetsk and its neighboring region to the north, Kharkiv.

Ahead of Victory Day, Ukrainian military officials claimed Russian forces were aiming to seize the strategic town of Chasiv Yar in Donetsk by May 9, but that hasn’t happened yet. Seizing the city on high ground could help Russian forces to launch offensives on other key targets, including the so-called “fortress cities” of Kostiantynivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Time is of the essence for Russian forces as they look to occupy more territory before Ukrainian forces can replenish diminished artillery and ammunition supplies after the approval in April of a long-awaited $61 billion U.S. aid package.

Ukraine continues to remind Russia that it is not immune from attack on its own soil, however, with an increasing number of drone and missile attacks targeting Russia’s own energy infrastructure, particularly in its border regions.

But manpower remains an issue for Ukraine, while Russia has been able to mobilize hundreds of thousand of men to fight in Ukraine, ranging from convicts to conscripts. When asked in his annual December phone-in whether there would be another wave of mobilization, Putin was dismissive, claiming that 480,000 had already voluntarily signed up to fight.

Russia has used its superiority in terms of manpower to lethal effect, with fighting in eastern Ukraine frequently characterized as a “meat grinder” as waves of Russian soldiers have been used to try to overwhelm Ukraine’s forces.

Russia and Ukraine have not released official death toll data since early in the war, but a declassified U.S. intelligence report in December suggested that the war has cost Russia at least 315,000 dead and injured troops, NBC News reported.


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