Troops paraded through Red Square and President Vladimir Putin exalted his war in Ukraine on Tuesday, but scaled-back celebrations saw Russia’s cherished Victory Day showcase its vulnerability and military weakness, rather than its might.
The country’s annual holiday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany comes nearly 15 months into its own bloody invasion of its neighbor, and just days after an alleged drone attack on the Kremlin, as well as the public escalation of a bitter feud between top military leaders ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Though Kyiv has denied involvement in the mysterious incident, events across the country were curtailed over security fears and mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin renewed his rhetorical assault on the Kremlin’s top brass, ensuring the most sacred day on the calendar for Putin’s Russia took place under a growing shadow.
Putin said in his address that “a real war” has been waged on Russia, yet again framing his invasion as a response to the West’s “exorbitant ambitions.”
But for all his grandiose language and efforts to rally public support, there were growing signs of disquiet within the Russian ranks.
Shortly after the parade, Prigozhin lambasted the Russian defense ministry for failing to supply his fighters with ammunition, after promising to pull his forces from a key battle last week. He questioned the state’s ability to defend the country and the wisdom of holding the celebrations in the midst of a brutal conflict.
The high-profile clash over the struggle to capture Bakhmut illustrates the lack of any symbolic victory from a costly winter push on the battlefield. In addition, a wave of explosions have hit strategic targets deep inside Russia and several prominent pro-war figures in recent months, fueling a growing sense of unease over the security of territory Russia controls — from the capital to Crimea.
It prompted authorities in many regions to scale back or cancel military parades that normally draw huge crowds.
Red Square was closed to the public for two weeks ahead of the occasion, in an apparent move to stave off any security threats to the high-profile event in the heart of the capital. Moscow also banned the use of civilian drones and ride-sharing services were unavailable in the city center, with security fears given new urgency by what the Kremlin claims was the Ukrainian assassination attempt on Putin.
The “Immortal Regiment” procession, which sees hundreds of thousands of Russians march with the portraits of family members who fought against Nazi Germany every Victory Day, was moved online, with people being asked to share photos of the veterans on social media, buildings and cars instead.
Some activists and analysts have suggested that authorities may also have feared a potent display of the effects of the current war, especially if families brought portraits of the many killed in Ukraine.