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Postponed Because Of The Pandemic, Moscow Prepares To Mark Victory Day


Russian President Vladimir Putin had some pretty big plans for this year. He wanted to hold a giant military parade on Red Square to celebrate the victory over Germany in World War II and also hold a referendum that would give him an extra 12 years in power. All of that had to be postponed because of the pandemic. Now Putin is having a second go. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: President Putin has made the rearming of Russia a hallmark of his rule. And for the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat, he had a cathedral built dedicated to the country's armed forces.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

KIM: The consecration ceremony was supposed to have taken place on the May 9 holiday to coincide with a parade on Red Square. Both events were meant to reinforce the image of Putin as a father of a revitalized Russia with a grateful nation voting to cancel his term limits. Appropriating the Soviet victory in World War II has become Putin's main source of legitimacy, says Alexander Titov, a Russian historian who teaches at Queen's University Belfast.

ALEXANDER TITOV: The victory in the Second World War is still relatively a unifying idea. So Putin kind of use it to his own ends.

KIM: Titov says Putin is trying to draw a line from imperial Russia and the Soviet Union to his own rule.

TITOV: The main point, of course, remains that Russia is basically back to be a great power. And the main way of achieving it is not through friendship or through soft power but military power.

KIM: The Victory Day parade hasn't always been a display of military might. In 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the war's end, a lot more veterans were still alive and were the heroes of the parade. Boris Yeltsin was Russia's president. And there was a feeling of optimism and common purpose following the Cold War.


BORIS YELTSIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He said May 9 should be a day of commemorating the war dead and celebrating the forces for good. President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary were among the guests of honor. There was a huge placard showing a Red Army soldier arm in arm with an American GI.

After Putin became president in the year 2000, he turned Victory Day into a show of military hardware, borrowing from Communist-era parades. He also restored the Soviet anthem, which military bands play again on Red Square.


KIM: Last year, Putin said the Victory Day parade had become an integral part of Russian tradition.



KIM: "All these parades and marches," he said, "are not meant as saber rattling but to honor the victors and prevent another war from breaking out."

Alexander Titov says Wednesday's parade is a far cry from what Putin had originally wanted.

TITOV: Certainly, no big foreign leader is coming. So in that sense, it must be hugely disappointing for Putin that this great anniversary, which also was supposed to be kind of crowning of him as, essentially, president for life really kind of turned into a very small-scale affair.

KIM: Given that Russia still has the world's third-highest number of coronavirus infections, the Kremlin doesn't even want ordinary Russians to come out to see the parade.


KIM: Putin's spokesman has recommended Muscovites stay at home and watch it on TV.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
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