Moscow returns to Soviet era with weaponry on parade
Luke Harding in Moscow
Monday January 21, 2008
Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Ivanov, reviews troops during the military parade on Red Square in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Photograph: Pool/EPA
It was one of the highlights of the Soviet calendar, and a chance for the world's only communist superpower to show off its military might.
For ordinary citizens, it was also a rare opportunity to eyeball their gerontocratic leaders standing on top of Lenin's tomb - and to check that they were still alive, and could wave.
But 17 years after the last communist tanks trundled through Red Square, the Kremlin has decided to revive the Soviet-era practice of parading its big weaponry.For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, combat vehicles will return to the heart of Moscow, driving past the Kremlin during Russia's annual military parade on May 9, Russia's defence ministry confirmed today.
As well as six thousands soldiers in shiny new uniforms, Russian generals plan to show off their latest tanks and rockets, including the country's new, and lethal, intercontinental ballistic missile, the Topol-M.
"Under the plan adopted by the president, land and air military equipment will be involved in the parade on Red Square," General Yuri Solovyov said today. The parade will include the new S-300 missile defence system - which Russia has just sold to Iran - and 32 fighter jets.
The decision to revive one of the most pregnant symbols of the Cold War is likely to provoke criticism from Russia's opposition, who accuse president Vladimir Putin of turning Russia into a pastiche version of the Soviet Union.
It might also raise a few quizzical eyebrows inside Britain's Moscow embassy. Last week Russia forcibly closed the British Council's two regional offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg using what British officials described as "'classic KGB tactics".
On Friday, Britain's ambassador in Moscow, Tony Brenton, compared post-communist Russia to the Soviet Union after officers from Russia's main domestic intelligence agency - the FSB - interrogated British Council workers.
President Putin has already demonstrated his fondness for Soviet emblems. He has updated the Soviet national anthem. Last year he said Russia should preserve the hammer and sickle on victory flags, arguing it was a part of Russia's past.
Today, one observer said that the Kremlin was using different symbols from Russia's Soviet and pre-revolutionary past to recreate a 'new national idea' of Russian greatness.
"It's a very complicated postmodern mix that borrows from the Soviet past, but also from Russia's imperial past and the tsarist era," Nikolay Petrov, scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow said.
He added: "It's an ideological concept. The point is to show that Russia was great before the revolution, was great during Soviet times and to say we are restoring its greatness."
The Soviet Union's military parades, to celebrate victory over the Nazis on May 9 and the Bolshevik revolution on November 7, were a twice-yearly feature of Soviet life, watched by millions live on TV.
The parades invariably featured portraits of Lenin and Stalin, as well as balloons, motorcades and rictus-like grinning folk dancers. Kremlinologists used the occasion to try and divine who might become the next Politburo leader - by scrutinising who stood nearest to the current general secretary.
"We will be using military vehicles. But we haven't decided yet which and how many war machines will be used," Oleg Yushkov, spokesman for the Moscow military district told the Guardian. "We'll know by mid-March," he added.
Combat vehicles were last paraded in Red Square on November 7, 1990, shortly before the Soviet Union vanished. No parades were staged from 1991 to 1994. Parades resumed in 1995, but without any of the tanks and 20 metre-long missiles characteristic of the Soviet epoch.
As well as rehabilitating old Soviet imagery, Putin has also boosted defence spending. After the Soviet Union's demise, Russia's vast military economy collapsed. The squeeze continued in the 1990s, but since 2000 spending has gone up, with last year's budget of $31bn almost four times the amount spent in 2001.