The war in Ukraine has prompted officials across Russia to scale back annual celebrations of Victory Day, the country’s most important national holiday, as more than 20 cities skip military parades and organizers cancel a popular nationwide march honoring war veterans.
Security concerns are often cited due to the string of cancellations of Tuesday’s events, but some analysts suggested the concern had something to do with concerns about domestic unrest.
It’s an unusual move in a country where parades, which commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, have become a signature event for President Vladimir Putin.
Over the years, he has thrown the day in celebration of not only a historic victory but also Russia’s current need to thwart the Western powers he says are still trying to destroy it. Recently, he has tried to wrap Ukraine in that narrative, falsely portraying it as a stronghold of Nazism.
The country’s biggest parade, outside the Kremlin in Red Square, is still expected to be the usual display of crude military might, with row after row of carefully tailored soldiers marching amid weapons including aging tanks and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Mr Putin is also due to address the nation.
But outside of Moscow, a recent wave of drone attacks against military targets or infrastructure in cities such as Sevastopol in Crimea, the main port for the Black Sea Fleet, as well as others in regions bordering Ukraine, has given officials pause. Even the Kremlin was not immune, as two drones were destroyed over Putin’s office last week.
The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, wagered on his country’s claim to the holiday address on Monday Comparison of World War II and the current war against the Russian invaders. From now on, he said, May 9 would be called Europe Day, commemorating “the unity of all Europeans who destroyed Nazism and will defeat the Russian spirit”, a Ukrainian term combining “Russian” and “fascist”.
He said, “We fought at that time and we are fighting now so that no one will ever enslave other nations again and destroy other nations.”
In Russia, various regional governors have cited security concerns in canceling Victory Day events. They don’t usually go into detail, but in Belgorod, a region bordering Ukraine, the governor suggested that slow-moving military vehicles and marching soldiers might make for a call for targets.
Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said: “There will be no parade so as not to provoke the enemy with a large amount of equipment and soldiers crowded in the center of Belgorod.” “The refusal to hold the march is related to the safety of the residents of the area.”
Several regions banned drone flights during the events, and the Readovka news agency reported on Telegram that National Guard units had been issued anti-drone weapons.
Igor Artamonov, the governor of the Lipetsk region, also close to Ukraine, said his decision should not be misinterpreted.
“We are not afraid, we do not raise our hands,” he wrote on the messaging app Telegram. “No neo-Nazi scum will be able to spoil the great Victory Day. But we also have no right to endanger people. It is clear to everyone that parades are held in strictly defined squares at strictly defined times.
The nationwide cancellation of the “Immortal Regiment” rally, when ordinary Russians take to the streets to display portraits of their veteran ancestors, is perhaps the most striking change. Dimitri S. said: Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said the rally was canceled “as a precaution” against possible attacks.
Some conservatives said they did not want to gather large numbers of people in the midst of war. But some analysts have noted that the Kremlin may worry that putting large crowds of Russians on the streets at such a turbulent time could lead to civil unrest, even with Russia’s strict wartime laws against protests.
It could be particularly volatile, analysts said, if thousands of people were shown pictures of the new war dead, revealing the scale of the losses the government had tried to hide. Some pictures of soldiers killed in Ukraine during last year’s celebrations were relayed, but the numbers were much lower at the time, after only two months of fighting.
“People will not come out with pictures of their great-grandfathers,” Elvira Vikhareva, political activist, wrote on Facebook. People will come out with pictures of their fathers, sons and brothers. The regiment will not turn out to be “immortal”, but very mortal, and the scale will be visible.
Whatever the reason, Russian officials are trying to promote an alternative, suggesting that people upload photos to a private website or put pictures of their veteran ancestors on their cars and apartment windows.
Some local leaders far from Ukraine said they had canceled their rallies in solidarity with frontline areas. In the Pskov region, home to the famous Paratroopers Division ravaged by fighting and implicated in possible war crimes, Governor Mikhail Vedernikov said the sound of fireworks would disturb recovering soldiers and that the money would be better spent on their soldiers. needs.
Other regions planned to go ahead with the festivities, but on a smaller scale. In St. Petersburg, there will be no Air Force airlift, for example.
Some pro-war bloggers worried that the men and equipment traditionally shown at many parades would be more useful at the front, supporting the turbulent war effort.
Governor Vedernikov suggested a change, saying: “We must not celebrate the victory, but do our best to bring it closer.”
Milana MazevaAnd Alina Lobzina And Shashank Bengali Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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