Scaled-down Victory Day Parade in Moscow attracts thin crowds

Scaled-down Victory Day Parade in Moscow attracts thin crowds
Moscow celebrated one of the smallest and low-key May 9 Victory Day celebrations in years amid heightened security concerns. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews May 10, 2023

A scaled-down Victory Day military parade on Moscow’s Red Square and through the capital’s central streets attracted thin crowds as fewer people came to watch the annual May 9 celebrations than in recent years.

This year's parade took place amidst Russia's efforts to draw a connection between its triumph over Germany in 1945 and the ongoing war in Ukraine, with Russian President Vladimir Putin constantly attempting to portray Kyiv as the new bastion of Nazism.

The annual parade commemorating the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II typically showcases Russia's military prowess. However, due to the ongoing deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine, the 2023 parade was significantly smaller than in previous years. The parade featured just one tank, a Soviet T-34 from World War II, alongside other military hardware such as Tigr-M armoured vehicles, BTR-82A armoured personnel carriers and an Iskander-M tactical missile system. Conspicuously absent from the display was the much-hyped T-14 Armata.

The customary fly-past over Red Square was cancelled, and no explanation was provided.

Outside of the capital, May 9 celebrations in many cities around the country were either completely cancelled or scaled back, including in the border cities of Belgorod, Kursk and Bryansk.

Despite being a celebration of the victory over Nazi Germany, the annual Victory Day parade is a post-Soviet phenomenon. The first parade was ordered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1945 and was held only three more times before the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1965, 1985 and 1990. Annual Victory Day parades began in Russia in 1995 under President Boris Yeltsin. Under Putin's tenure, the parade has evolved into a showcase of the country's military might, designed to show off state-of-the-art warplanes, tanks and missiles.

In many previous years Victory Day celebrations were attended by an array of world leaders, including a controversial appearance by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, due to the international community's condemnation of Moscow following the invasion of Ukraine, the 2023 parade saw significantly reduced foreign representation, with only seven leaders attending, including President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

As is tradition, Putin gave a short speech before the start of the parade. However, unlike in previous years, the congratulations of Soviet war veterans were brief, with the president instead eager to focus on the current “special military operation” in Ukraine. In an attempt to connect WWII to the ongoing conflict, Putin accused "certain countries" of creating "a real cult of the Nazis" and reiterated his claim that the "Russophobic" West is attempting to impose its will on Moscow.

“Today, our civilisation is at a crucial turning point. A real war is being waged against our country again but we have countered international terrorism and will defend the people of Donbas and safeguard our security,” he said.

“Their goal – and there is nothing new about it – is to break apart and destroy our country, to make null and void the outcomes of World War II, to completely break down the system of global security and international law, to choke off any sovereign centres of development.”

​​However, despite Putin’s enthusiasm, the slimmed-down military parade through the city was greeted with a smaller-than-normal attendance from Muscovites, many of whom were parents with children or pensioners.

The poor attendance can be attributed not only to the reduced level of celebrations but also to the long four-day holiday, with many locals likely to choose to spend a relaxing weekend at their dacha (summer house). Additionally, the risk of a possible attack, particularly after the drone incursion inside the Kremlin walls earlier in the month, may have deterred some people from attending.

The normally packed streets in the centre of the city, such as New Arbat and the Garden Ring, were much less busy compared to the pre-War editions of the parade. In some sections of the parade route, there were more police officers present than spectators.

"I live just two minutes away from the Garden Ring and come down to this spot every year," Anastasia (not her real name) told bne IntelliNews shortly after the parade finished. "I don't know much about the military, but it seems like there were fewer tanks this time."

Her young son, standing by her side, didn’t appear to be too bothered by the smaller parade, and grinned, still waving a Russian flag.

Further along the Garden Ring, towards Arbat Street, crowds gathered in Kudrinskaya Square. In years past, this part of the route was filled with multiple rows of people. However, this year, spots in the front row were readily available.

“I came alone this year,” Andrey Goncharov, a construction worker in his 50s, told bne IntelliNews. “My wife didn’t want to get up this morning, but I come every year. I served in the military myself, so I think it is very important to pay tribute to those who fought for us during the Great Patriotic War.”