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The weak Russian Victory Day celebration of 2023

During World War II, the Soviet Union suffered the greatest loss of any country, with 25 million soldiers and civilians killed, including 70% of men born in 1923 who were perished between 1939 and 1945.

This conflict, known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia, was sparked by Nazi Germany's invasion in June 1941. At that time, the Wehrmacht had a total of 3,800,000 ground forces in Europe, 86% of which were deployed on the eastern front, including the Waffen-SS extermination group, which had all its 150,000 soldiers stationed there.

The countries in the east, particularly Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland, suffered the highest percentage of population loss, with up to 25% of their citizens being killed.

Indeed, the Soviet Union played a major role in defeating Hitler, winning the battles of Stalingrad and Berlin, and because of the large number of Nazi soldiers killed by the Red Army. Something important to have in mind is that the Red Army also committed atrocities against German civilians, including the rape of 1.4 million women during the final months of the war, which ended on May 8, 1945, at 11:01 p.m. Central European Time. Because if the time difference, the capitalution of Germany was signed on May 9, 1945, at 00:01 Moscow time. This is the reason why western countries celebrate the end of WW2 on 8 May, and the former Soviet countries one day after.

The Victory Day parade was not always celebrated during the Soviet-era (1922-1991), but was revived by President Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) for the 50th anniversary in 1995. With Vladimir Putin has made the parade an annual event featuring military hardware and a strong state ritual to display Russian nationalism and state power. Putin declared in 2005 that "the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

This year's parade was a scaled-down version of previous years, with fewer troops, military equipment, and foreign leaders. Only 8,000 troops marched over the Red Square, compared to 12,000 in previous years, and there were no aircraft flying. Only one tank, an antique T-34-85 produced in the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1946, was displayed, and there were only 51 military vehicles compared to 197 in 2021. Additionally, no short-range air defense systems were seen, and only a few political leaders from Central Asia attended.

Nevertheless, Putin did not missed the opportunity to spread his messages, declaring that “Today civilization is once again at a decisive turning point,” Putin said. “A real war has been unleashed against our Motherland.” On the part of Ukraine, Zelensky said that from this date, their Victory Day would be moved to the 8th of May, to join the European celebrations and take distance from Russian traditions.

This downscaled parade is surprising given the Kremlin's usual emphasis on spreading propaganda both domestically and abroad. However, it may be a result of scarcity in Russian military equipment at the Ukrainian front or an attempt by Putin to respond to criticism from nationalist and extreme-right forces in Russia, who are demanding a full-scale use of military tools to "crush Zelensky." By showcasing a small military parade in Moscow, Putin may argue that resources are being used efficiently, and the government is doing its best with the operation in Ukraine.

The answer may lie somewhere between these two possibilities.


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