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May 12, 2022: In Russia, the 2022 annual May 9th Victory Day Parade was about a third smaller than the 2021 event. This is a result of the war in Ukraine. The 2022 parade was expected to feature an important speech by leader Vladimir Putin about the future of the war in Ukraine. Many Russians were concerned about that. Despite new laws making data on deaths in the military a state secret, Russian families are starting to receive the coffins of soldiers, sailors and airmen killed in Ukraine. Earlier it was believed that the coffins, or news that their soldier was missing and presumed dead, would be delayed until after May 9th. That didn’t happen and the coffins and death notices are being delivered.

Despite the censorship of casualty news, families all over Russia realized that contact had been lost with a very large number of Russian soldiers since February 24th, the day the “Ukraine Operation” began. Calling it a war or invasion was a criminal offense. Speculation was that the 2022 parade speech would include a declaration that a state of war now existed against NATO because of Ukraine. That meant a national mobilization could commence, with a call up of military personnel who had recently left the service or retired. This was seen as a gamble because morale and discipline in the military plummeted after the invasion began.

The Ukrainians were able to tap into Russian military communications as well as authorized or unauthorized cell phone use by soldiers and officers inside Ukraine. Many of these recordings were made public, as were the interviews of captured soldiers and officers. Most of the prisoners of war were eager to talk about their experience in Ukraine, which did not reflect well on Russian planning for the invasion and management of it once it began to fail. Officers still in command complained to wives that discipline had collapsed and troops often refused to fight. There were growing incidents of desertion or mutiny. Back in Russia, the recent semi-annual call up of conscripts featured even more young men refusing to show up or bribing officials to declare them unfit for service.

Since the start of the fighting at least one general a week has been killed in action, along with many brigade and battalion commanders or staff officers of the same rank. At the end of March nearly all forces had been withdrawn from northern Ukraine and those still combat capable were sent to eastern Ukraine for another offensive that failed to advance because of Ukrainian resistance, heavy Russian casualties and timid behavior by troops and junior officers. Ukrainian counter-attacks pushed back Russian forces and more outbreaks of partisan (armed) resistance started in areas controlled by Russian forces.

At the end of April Valery Gerasimov, the senior general and commander of all Russian military forces, went to Ukraine to see for himself what was going on. On May 1st there were reports that Gerasimov was wounded by enemy artillery fire and recalled to Moscow. Gerasimov could have been killed because he had been at a meeting with dozens of senior officers that Ukrainian intelligence found out about. The Ukrainians immediately launched a missile and artillery strike on the site of the meeting. Over a hundred Russians were killed and many more in the area wounded, including Gerasimov. Russia would not confirm that. Gerasimov was selected by Putin a decade ago to be chief of staff and ensure that many important military programs were completed successfully. Putin trusts Gerasimov, but Gerasimov is at fault for not realizing the poor combat readiness of Russian forces and the decisive effectiveness of the Ukrainian defense. Putin’s remarks at the 2022 parade were supposed to clarify the many questions about the war and where it was going.

There were also questions of how effective Putin’s efforts were to restore Russian military power and pride in the achievements of the communist leadership during wartime. With the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were fewer events like the Victory Day Parades. The big Moscow parade was not held from 1991 to 1994 because there was no money for it. The parades were resumed in 1995, in part because it had become customary to hold larger parades involving up to 15,000 troops and hundreds of vehicles every five years. The 2020 parade was to be special because it was the 75th anniversary of the victory.

In 2015 Russia commemorated the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 in a spectacular and expensive fashion. The annual Victory Day parade was held in Moscow and it was the largest ever for this event. The trend towards larger and larger Victory Day parades began in 2011 which was (up until then) the largest ever parade, featuring 20,000 troops and a growing array of new weapons. World War II (the Great Patriotic War in Russia) is still a very big deal. The conflict killed nearly 30 million Russians, a figure that was a state secret until the Cold War (and the Soviet Union) ended in 1991. Before that, the Soviet government downplayed their wartime losses, which were about twice what the Soviets would admit to. The war was a catastrophe for Russia, destroying much of the economy, in addition to causing widespread hunger and privation. It took decades to repair most of the damage, and the annual victory celebration was a reminder of all that. But things change. By the 1970s, older Russians were beginning to complain that memories were starting to fade. Younger Russians were put off by the forced celebrations and constant propaganda extolling the efforts of the Communist Party in defeating the German invaders. When the Cold War ended, the annual parades continued, but without the forced attendance. The government is trying to maintain Victory Day as something important for most people. This justifies the big parades since 2011, where the event cost a record $43 million. It's become less a celebration of how great the Communist Party was, and more about how the Russian people came together to defeat a common enemy.

The 2010 victory day parade in Moscow was also different. Not only was it bigger than it has been since the Cold War, it featured many weapons, including armored vehicles, missiles, and warplanes overhead. Over 10,000 troops marched in Moscow (with over 100,000 nationwide in over 70 major parades). The Moscow parade included, for the first time, contingents from World War II allies America, Britain and France.

After the Russian attack on Ukraine in 2014 there was no more Western participation in the May 9 parades as Putin pushed his belief that NATO was actively at war with Russia and something must be done to deal with that.

 


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