Russian President Vladimir Putin marked the 75th anniversary of World War II victory in a low-key ceremony after scrapping the traditional Red Square parade because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Putin last month postponed most public celebrations on May 9 after the COVID-19 crisis forced him to call off plans for a grand ceremony commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany attended by foreign leaders. Authorities went ahead only with a fly-past by the air force with 75 warplanes and helicopters. The annual parade usually involves thousands of troops and displays of military hardware including tanks and nuclear missile-launchers.
“We know and firmly believe that we are invincible when we are together,” Putin said in a short televised speech after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near Red Square on Saturday.
The Russian leader had attached particular importance to the World War II event this year, inviting the heads of Western allies during the war to join him on Red Square even as they continue to sanction the Kremlin over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron accepted Putin’s invitation.
On the eve of May 9, Putin sent messages to Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, recalling the achievements of the anti-Hitler coalition and urging cooperation today in the face of current threats and challenges, including the global virus.
“Our countries could do a great deal for the sake of international security and stability,” Putin said to Trump.
So far, leaders of three of the other four permanent members of the United Nation’s Security Council — the U.S., China and France — have accepted an invitation from Putin to hold a summit meeting to discuss risks to international stability. Russia still plans to stage a “large-scale” Red Square parade of the 75th anniversary at a later date, the Russian president said.
In neighboring Belarus, authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko ignored virus warnings and is going ahead with a public celebration.
Russia has the sixth-largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the world after recording daily increases of around 10,000 infections for the past week and is close to the 200,000 mark.
The annual victory commemoration of the war, which claimed the lives of 27 million Soviet citizens and is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, is traditionally an occasion for the government to rouse the nation.
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