Russia’s Victory Day Celebration Unable to Cover Up the Challenges

May the 9th marks the end of World War II for the Soviet Union.  The day became Victory Day and was celebrated by the Soviet Union and the independent republics after the end of the Soviet Union.  Even today, people still pay their respect to the war memorial, and all kinds of events are held across the former Soviet countries to commemorate this day. 

This year is no exception, although Russia is still at war with Ukraine.  Moscow will still host the celebration on Red Square with a military parade.  Leaders from the former Soviet countries also joined the ceremony, even though Kremlin initially expressed little interest in inviting foreign leaders. 

Putin has always hoped that Victory Day would be able to show the world that Russia is a formidable country and he is still in control of the nation.  Yet, the reality is a bleak one.  The previous attack on Kremlin has drastically changed this year’s celebration, and the scaled-back military parade and Putin’s speech revealed Russia’s difficult challenge on the Ukraine frontline.  Meanwhile, despite international participation, the formal Soviet republics slowly distanced themselves from Moscow. 

The recent drone attack on Kremlin is a big slap in the face for the Moscow government.  Even though there was no substantial damage, the incident still indicated the weakness and incompetency of the Russian air defense force, especially in Moscow.  Yet, this is not the first time Russia has been under attack, from the bombs in Saint Petersburg to the attack on Russian military facilities near the Ukraine border.  Nowhere is safe now with the attacks. 

The direct consequence of the drone attack is the Victory Day military parade arrangement.  Besides banning the use of drones and GPS in many parts of the country, Russia took steps even further.  Moscow city leaders are now required to join “anti-terrorist patrols.”  Red Square was closed way earlier than usual.  The government even canceled all the Immortal Regiment parades, a popular new tradition started in 2011.  The lack of pomp and circumstance has indicated the security paranoia from the Moscow government this year. 

The main event of the Victory Day celebration is the military parade on Red Square in Moscow.  Traditionally, this is the chance for Russia to flex its muscle and show the world that it is still a formidable power on the world stage.  In previous years, it worked as the world still sees the Russian armed forces as powerful. 

However, this year’s parade not only did not deliver the grandeur the Kremlin seeks but also revealed the weakness of the Russian military.  The majority participant of the parade has been military academy cadets or conscripts.  The traditional, elite participant of the parade, like VDV, are mainly in the frontline fighting.  Meanwhile, there were no aircraft flyovers, and the demonstration of the mechanized forces can only be described as shabby, with very few items on display.  Since Russia lost a significant portion of the equipment in Ukraine and had to use the old Soviet storage to keep fighting, it became no surprise that the scale of the parade and the amount of equipment demonstrated were much smaller. 

Another essential part of the military parade is the speech from President Putin.  However, this year’s speech had something different.  Compared to the speech last year, there is a clear sub-tone of desperation in Putin’s speech.  Putin declared that “a real war” has been waged between Russia and the “Western globalist elites” have been spilling venom against Moscow.  Putin compared the ongoing military action to the fight against fascism in World War II, claiming that the people’s future relies on the men on the frontline.  Furthermore, Putin’s criticism of the West became harsher than last year, calling the West destroying the traditional value and spreading “plundering, violence and suppression.”

Internationally, things have not gone well with Russia.  Due to the security concern, there were supposed to have no international leaders participating in the events on Red Square.  Moscow invited some of the former Soviet country leaders at the last minute.  Even so, the relationships between Moscow and these countries are far from ideal.  The former Soviet countries have already expressed great concern about the war in Ukraine.  No country has recognized Russian action in Eastern Ukraine.  China will even host the Central Asia leaders summit without Moscow, further showing the eroding influence of Moscow. 

Outside of Russia, Victory Day is still celebrated in former Soviet countries.  However, from the scale to the symbolism, the celebration has been changed to distance from those in Russia.  Some countries changed Victory Day to another national holiday or shared the holiday week with other holidays.  Ukraine moved Victory Day to May 8 and declared May 9 Day of Europe.  Also, many countries avoided or made using the St. George’s ribbon, one of the critical symbols of Victory Day, illegal.  At the same time, the Immortal Regiment parade was canceled in some countries for various reasons.  Considering the trend of derussification of the former Soviet countries, the desire to make the holiday and celebration different from Moscow became sensible.  The shifting festival further indicates the shrinking influence of Moscow. 

Back in the Soviet era, Victory Day is meant to celebrate and thank those who have sacrificed for the nation.  The celebration was nowhere near what modern Russians are conducting.  Victory Day has boosted the government’s image and pumped up Russian nationalism.  However, with a predicament in Ukraine and the attack on Kremlin, Moscow had to scale down the event.  Despite foreign participation, Moscow’s trouble with the outside world keeps growing.  This year’s Victory Day celebration reveals the more profound crisis for the Russian government. 

Haoyu "Henry" Huang
Haoyu "Henry" Huang
Haoyu "Henry" Huang is an independent international affairs observer. He graduated with a Bachelors's degree from the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs in May 2020. He is from China and has previously lived and worked in the United States and Kazakhstan. He is currently based in Tanzania.