Grandiose Victory Day Parade in Kaliningrad Tainted by Another Corruption Scandal

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 79

Kaliningrad Immortal Regiment march (Source:

Kaliningrad oblast, the westernmost region of the Russian Federation, celebrated the 73rd anniversary commemorating the end of World War II on May 9, Victory Day (, May 9). Similar to the commemorations happening across the rest of the country, the long-prepared parade (the night-time rehearsals were carried out for several days) in the regional capital of the same name was meant to display high levels of “national unity” and “patriotism.” At the same time, the parade was designed to demonstrate the current military potential of the oblast. However, the overall impressions were tainted by the nearly concurrent revelations of new scandals related to the Baltic Sea Fleet.

This year’s Victory Day celebrations were among the most impressive in this oblast’s post-1991 history, particularly if evaluated by the numbers of people taking part. For instance, in the city of Kaliningrad, the number of volunteers who joined in to march in the so-called Immortal Regiment (Bessmertny Polk) hit a new record, reaching 45,000–50,000 participants (the city’s overall population is 473,644 residents), including all high-level officials and the local top-ranking military commanders. Officially launched in Russia, in 2011, to honor the veterans of the war, the Immortal Regiment initiative has now extended to 80 countries around the world (see EDM, May 16). As reported by local sources, this figure demonstrates a two-fold increase compared with the previous year, and almost 417 times more than when the initiative was first launched (, May 9). According to some claims, the number of participants across the oblast may have reached 120,000 people (TASS, May 9). Also, aside from cadets and professional military personnel (the Baltic Sea Fleet press service stated that 1,800 military personnel participated), the parade was joined by formations of the local Youth Army (Yunarmia) movement, popularly referred to as “[Defense Minister] Sergei Shoigu’s youth army” (see EDM, November 9, 2016).

During the parade in Kaliningrad, the public could observe some of the most up-to-date Russian weaponry meant to ensure the military security of the oblast, which, as an enclave inside the European Union, is physically detached from the rest of Russia. All in all, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) showcased 60 different pieces (some of which had been tested in Syria and are now forming the local Anti-Access, Area-Denial—A2/AD—“bubble”) meant to defend Russian territory against “foreign aggression.” Among the most important weapons systems were:

– The Platform-M, a remote-controlled robotic unit on a crawler, armed with grenade launchers and Kalashnikov rifles, equipped with optical-electronic and radio reconnaissance locators, which enable it to conduct combat tasks during the night;

– The BTR-82A armored personnel carrier;

– The S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft weapons system (NATO terminology: SA-21 Growler);

– The K-300P Bastion-P (NATO terminology: SS-C-5 Stooge) and the 3K60 Bal (SSC-6 Sennight) coastal defense missile systems; as well as

– The Pantsir-S1 (NATO terminology: SA-22 Greyhound) short- to medium-range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapons system.

Incidentally, during the parade, the Iskander-M (in NATO classification: SS-26 Stone) mobile short-range ballistic missile system (in total, three complexes) with a striking range of 500 kilometers was demonstrated to Kaliningrad residents for the first time (, May 3). The appearance of Iskanders rolling by during the event thus eliminated any remaining uncertainties about the presence of these weapons in the oblast. Curiously, aside from Kaliningrad, Iskander-Ms were publicly displayed (also for the first time) in some other Russian regions, including Zabaykalsky krai (at the parade in the city of Chita) (TASS, May 9, 2018). Commenting on the deployment of the Iskanders (and other types of military equipment) in Russia’s westernmost oblast, the local governor, Anton Alikhanov, stated that the presence of this weaponry is “a guaranty of military security, although other countries do not have to be afraid of the oblast” (TASS, May 7).

It is also worth mentioning that, less than a month before this year’s Victory Day, the city of Kaliningrad inaugurated a monument to Alexander Nevsky (1220–1263), the revered Russian count who beat back the Western “invaders”—Swedes and the German Teutonic Knights. The unveiling of the Nevsky statue, clearly carried out with the Kremlin’s backing, apparently aimed to demonstrate the inherent “Russianness” of the Kaliningrad oblast and its deeply symbolic position within Russia’s confrontation with the West. These broader themes were first broached by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, in 2015 (, March 14, 2015), and evidently have now been explicitly endorsed by President Vladimir Putin (, April 18, 2018).

Nevertheless, just ahead of the May 9 celebrations, the triumphalist atmosphere was somewhat spoiled (the local media, however, did its utmost to hush up the unpleasant news) by yet another corruption scandal regarding the Baltic Sea Fleet (BSF) (, May 8). Specifically, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKR) initiated 15 criminal cases related to “large-scale larceny committed by the fleet’s servicemen” (, May 9). The news once again brought to the fore the notorious reputation for corruption and relatively low morale within the BSF, proving that the navy’s Baltic outpost has not yet ceased to be a “nest of crime” (see EDM, July 6, 2016). The most recent notorious episode occurred on May 11, when a local lieutenant colonel was apprehended attempting to smuggle parts of a T-72 main battle tank (, May 11). In response to these uncovered scandals, the Russian MoD formed an ad hoc committee, on May 16, to undertake a series of special investigations of the military garrisons and units based in Kaliningrad. According to authoritative Russian sources, these investigations “might result in new criminal cases, as well as major [command-level] reshufflings” (, May 8).

The issue of corruption was by no means the only noticeable topic of discussion. On April 12, a Ka-29 naval assault transport helicopter (NATO classification: Helix-B) crashed in the waters of the Baltic Sea (both pilots died) in the course of landing exercises (it is assumed that the landing target was an Ivan Gren–class large landing ship) (, April 13). Information on the matter is murky and the details remain unknown. Nonetheless, it is worth pointing out that this was not the first such incident. In 2009, during quite similar exercises involving the Yaroslav Mudry (a Project 11540 frigate), a Ka-27 shipborne anti-submarine helicopter also crashed (, May 12, 2009). Collectively, these episodes demonstrate the visible dichotomy between the Kremlin’s buoyant rhetoric and the existing problems still faced by the BSF.