Preparations for the May 9 Victory Day ceremonies and military parade in Moscow have the city on edge. Repeated real-time rehearsals have been blocking traffic as armor and troop formations march time and again through downtown streets to Red Square and back again. The first workweek of May is shortened in Russia, with May 1 and May 9 being public holidays, so millions of Muscovites took additional days off and left town on April 30 to go to their dachas to plant vegetables, to picnic or to travel somewhere, planning to return on May 11, after the Victory Day hullabaloo is over. Moscow is a half-deserted town and civilian traffic is reduced, which helps a lot—the traffic jams caused by constant tank war games in the streets are less severe. In addition to the ground parade, hundreds of jets and helicopters have been overflying the capital, going low in close formation to prepare the pilots and crews and acquaint them with the terrain to avoid any hiccups on May 9, in the presence of foreign dignitaries.
On midday May 7, during the last full-dress real-time rehearsal of the parade, an embarrassing hiccup did happen: a new T-14 Armata main battle tank, which has been the focus of a massive propaganda effort to present it as the symbol of Russia’s revitalized military superpower capabilities (see EDM, April 28, 30), apparently lost power and became stranded in the middle of Red Square, opposite Vladimir Lenin’s tomb and the Kremlin. The tank stood still until the rest of the military hardware marched past; the defense minister, Army-General Sergei Shoigu, in full dress uniform, walked up to the stranded tank together with other top brass, apparently to figure out what was wrong. The stranded T-14 was hitched up to another piece of armor to tow it away. An official presenter, who was commenting on the rehearsal parade on Red Square over a loudspeaker, in an apparent attempt to spin the technical hitch, told the public: This is a preplanned demonstration of the ability of the Russian military to evacuate injured tanks from the battlefield. As the parade rehearsal ended, the general public was allowed back on Red Square, and gawkers gathered around the T-14 tank, filming and taking selfies. Eventually, a specialist from the Uralvagonzavod factory that produced the T-14 tank took the driver’s seat. Replacing the military T-14 driver, he managed to start up the engine and slowly moved the tank away from Red Square through the crowd (Interfax, May 7).
This year’s Victory Day anniversary has turned into a climax of Russia’s standoff with the West. Anti-American rhetoric seems at its peak. The chairman of the Duma foreign relations committee, Alexei Pushkov declared: “The US response to the 70th Victory Day anniversary is deeply immoral. We lost 27 million lives fighting [Adolf] Hitler and no [President Barack] Obama can rewrite that” (Interfax, May 7).
Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev accused Western leaders of hypocrisy for deciding to “ignore” the Victory Day parade in Moscow in protest over Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. According to Gorbachev, “without Russia, victory would not have been possible,” and possibly today the Nazis would still be on the move. According to Gorbachev, “ignoring the May 9 celebrations is a sign of disrespect.” Gorbachev commended German Chancellor Angela Merkel for deciding to come to Moscow on May 10, to lay a wreath with President Vladimir Putin at the tomb of the unknown soldier, close to the Kremlin wall, and hold talks. But he scolded Merkel for refusing to be at the May 9 military parade. The last leader of the Soviet Union accused “official Washington” of putting pressure on Merkel to prevent her from coming to Moscow on May 9. Gorbachev accused the US authorities of pursuing “a senseless political and ideological agenda” in ignoring Victory Day celebrations in Moscow; but he insisted the attitude of the American people is more friendly (Interfax, May 7).
The secretary of the Russian National Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, in an article published in the official defense ministry newspaper Red Star, lauded the “Great Victory” over Nazi Germany and quoted Putin: “Russia is still today being tested.” According to Patrushev, “The US and its allies attempt to dominate in world, trying to lead all, and are using military force unilaterally. Foreign intelligence services continue to subvert Russia, and economic sanctions have been imposed to try to lower living standards to provoke public protests.” According to Patrushev, “Fascism is being resurrected in Ukraine and the Baltic States, while US and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] aggression against Russia is increasing and their offensive potential near Russia’s borders is growing.” The United States is building a “global MD [missile defense] system,” and the threat of “indirect [hybrid]” warfare is also increasing. Russia is rearming and preparing its military to resist. The military doctrine has been rewritten last year and, according to Patrushev, the National Security Strategy and Information Security Doctrine will be rewritten to meet the new threats. The US and its allies are destabilizing the world in an attempt to strengthen their dominance, while Russia is the anchor of world stability as it resists “the dictate and the unceremonious intervention in the internal affairs of other states.” Remembering Victory Day, concludes Patrushev, “We must remember: wars do not begin suddenly; evil gathers force if it is not opposed” (Red Star, May 5).
The war of words with the West is in full swing and becoming worse, but words need material backup. Moscow is doing its best to project confidence and might at all costs—parading in downtown Moscow prototype tanks and other armor, driven by crews that apparently did not have enough time to learn how to properly operate this newly minted, complicated equipment. As during the Cold War, the Russian public must be goaded into patriotic anti-Western fervor by the sight of a revived military machine thundering through Red Square.