It's almost time for Russia's annual display of weapons and World War II pride
T-72s roll along Red Square during last year's Victory Day parade. (Photo: AFP)
It's the biggest event that happens every year in Moscow, a Russian extravaganza that rolls out weapons new and old and continues the war of words between Russia and the United States.
On Monday, Russia will celebrate the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II – known there as The Great Patriotic War – with it annual Victory Day celebrations and parade.
More than just a commemoration of Russian sacrifices during the war, since Soviet times the celebration is part of a carefully crafted military spectacle intended to tell the U.S. and the West that Russia is a world power worthy of respect – and even fear.
That's a message that Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin wants the United States to hear loud and clear.
"The Victory Day parade, with all its loudly trumpeted pomp and technology, is also a clear message to Russia's perceived threats and enemies that Russia is not to be trifled with militarily," Peter Zwack, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and former U.S. military attaché to Russia, told We Are The Mighty.
"The 71st anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany is the underlying theme, but in reality these recent parades are a robust display to the world and also Russia's domestic population of Russia's modern military might," Zwack said. "While initially there are vehicles and troops in commemorative World War II battle dress, overwhelmingly this is an aggressive assertion of today's Russian military which has had recent, widely publicized successes in Syria."
Russians hold the impressive parade in Moscow's Red Square. Traditionally, the parade is in three parts: a procession of the Ground Forces, the "military hardware demonstration" that showcases weapons systems new and old, and the "fly-by of the air forces."
One of the ways Russia asserts its might is the tradition of rolling out new hardware for the entire world to see. This year's parade and aerial flybys will be no different – and the Kremlin uses its Twitter and Instagram presence to gain maximum publicity.
According to the Kremlin's recent English-language social media postings, at least one new example of Russian military hardware will appear for the first time during the Victory Day celebration on Monday.
It is the Su-35s fighter, which is reportedly an upgraded version of the tried-and-true Flanker multirole air superiority fighter. Earlier this year, the Russian government placed a $1.4 billion order for 50 of the fighter planes to expand the Russian Air Force.
In February, the Russian military deployed four of the Su-35s to Khmeimim air base near Latakia for combat operations in Syria, according to a Russian news report.
The Kremlin says altogether 128 pieces of military equipment will participate in this year's Victory Day parade. That also will include reappearances by hardware that debuted last year such as the T-14 Armata tank.
T-90 main battle tanks, BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, and several other classes of armored vehicles will also appear.
Zwack said that in recent years Putin revived much of the Soviet-era pomp associated with the celebration as part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to bolster Russian pride. But not only will rolling tanks and soaring aircraft be on display – so will the Russian political leadership.
"Vladimir Putin is always front and center of the Victory Day parade with his defense minister, Sergey Shoigu," Zwack said "He is clearly the 'Alpha Leader' in charge, and he conveys that he will at all costs and any sacrifice protect and defend the Russian populace against all threats. In his mind he benefits internationally, and most importantly, domestically from this full blown display and resurgence of Russia's military capability and competence."
Celebrated since 1946, День Победы – Victory Day – displays the exceptional status that Russians believe they possess because of their sacrifices during the war. It is even celebrated on a different day than Victory in Europe Day – otherwise known as VE Day.
As far as most Russians are concerned, the celebration of their victory over Nazi Germany and the commemoration of the nearly 25 million soldiers and civilians who died during World War II is an affirmation of the eternal validity of Russian nationalism, the importance of Russian identity, and the necessity of Russia's place in the constellation of "great power" nations.
Germany signed a surrender agreement in France with the Allied Powers on May 7, 1945 – but the Soviet Union wanted a separate peace with Nazi Germany for a variety of political reasons.
While the rest of the world celebrated VE Day on May 8, Nazi representatives and the Allies repeated the surrender in Berlin where supreme German military commander Wilhelm Keitel, Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov and others signed the instrument of surrender. It was May 9 in the Moscow time zone when the agreement took effect – hence the date for Victory Day.
Since last year, one of the themes repeated by Moscow is the United States does not respect the sacrifice of the Russian people during World War II. It appears that is also a message that will accompany this year's Victory Day celebration.
For example, the message from the Kremlin to the United States regarding the upcoming anniversary is bitter. Its English-language social media site recently published photographs of post-war banners that said in Russian "Americans will never forget the heroic deeds of Russians" and "America says 'Hi' to our valiant Russian allies."
The Moscow-written tag-line to the recent post is: "How sad that you've already forgotten."