The anniversary celebrations of victory over Nazi Germany in May 1945, which ended World War II in Europe, have become the main yearly public relations event in Putin’s Russia. In Moscow, some 15,000 service members, 225 pieces of heavy military equipment and around 150 aircraft were being prepared for deployment on Red Square.
Russia has traditionally tried to use May 9th Victory Day in attempts to falsify history, to magnify its exceptional role in the defeat of Nazi Germany and to level out the role of the West in the fight against the enemy, as well as the importance of lend-lease and the opening of a second front in Normandy. But this year these messages might be harder to deliver as the country is muted by COVID-19.
Putin was confident that the parade, even against the backdrop of the imposed quarantine, would have a positive impact on his rating, which is declining day by day due to the impoverishment of the Russian population. The fact that Putin refused to hold the parade on May 9 clearly indicates that the situation with coronavirus in Russia is more than serious. The situation is balancing on the verge of a collapse in regional governance.
The planned celebrations would have potentially enhanced Putin as a top world leader abroad and, maybe more importantly, internally. The postponement of the VE Day parade in Moscow and in all other Russian regions is a grave matter for Putin. In his statement, he confessed the decision was not taken lightly, having arrived at it “with a heavy heart.”
The postponement of the parade was a blow to Putin's ambitions. In order to whitewash its reputation in a different way, the Kremlin began special operations in Europe, using a chance to deliver medical supplies gift to coronavirus-hit Italy as well as enacting his loyal western allies. The latest example was when former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder started desperately urging the international community to lift sanctions from Russia.
The Kremlin continues to invest huge financial and human resources to support the work of the Russian propaganda machine. Recent dismantling of a monument to Soviet General Ivan Konev in Prague prompted a diplomatic spat between Russia and the Czech Republic. Konev led the Soviet troops who liberated Prague in 1945, but also played a key role in suppressing the Prague Spring in 1968. Russia asked Czech Republic to send the monument to them. The Kremlin also tries to sow doubt about the good intentions of the Allies during the Second World War (namely Hitler's and Stalin's first landing in Normandy).
Over the past six years, since the Russian occupation of the Crimea peninsula, Putin has been trying to show people an imaginary history of Russia’s achievemnts and thus prevent the fall of the regime under the constant restrictions of personal and financial freedoms of the Russian population.
The Kremlin also "Stalinizes" the occupied territories, returning the cult of Joseph Stalin's personality (thus, during this May holiday time Ukraine’s Donetsk that has been under Russia’s occupation will be called Stalino, another occupied town of Tskhinvali would turn into Stalinir while Lugansk will be called Voroshilovgrad) and sacralizing the policy of promoting the division of Europe under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Despite the postponement of the parade in Moscow because of the coronavirus, the Russian Federation is seeking to hold propaganda actions, such as the "Immortal Regiment", in other countries including Western Europe. The Kremlin is especially trying to organize such events in the occupied territories of Russia, including Crimea, Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria.
The Red Army, which initiated the first Soviet parades aimed to bring peace to Europe (this is exactly the scenario modern Russian troops are playing in the hotspots of Syria, Libya and Ukraine’s Donbas) were used to suppress freedoms, intimidate Europe and oppress the free people of the “liberated” countries.
Russia is a country where the protection of one of the world's most brutal regimes is glorified, and its sacralization cost 47 million lives.
Speaking of the victory in World War II, Russia is trying to get European countries and the United States off the pedestal, without which this victory would not have happened. One state (USSR) has won, however another one (Russian Federation) is trying to profit from its glory.
However, some countries clearly recognize Russia’s intentions. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has marked this week’s WWII anniversary by issuing a strongly-worded statement that appears to target many of Russia’s most cherished myths relating to the war. The hard-hitting joint statement on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War was issued by the US Secretary of State together with the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, all nations that found themselves under Kremlin control for decades following the war.
The lack the West’s proper condemnation of the military and political crimes committed by the USSR in the last century has created the prerequisites for the revanchist policy and Russia’s aggression for creating a so-called USSR 2.0. Recently Putin raised eyebrows when he repeated a motto “we can repeat it” talking about how the Soviet Union was subjected to “a dreadful, horrible, unforgivable attack by Nazi Germany.”
“We lost 27 million people. No other country in the world sustained such an enormous loss. So, if anyone ever dares to try anything like that again, ‘we can repeat it,” Putin said, stressing that Russia will be ready to beat back any aggressor like Soviet Union did in WWII.
These and other messages by the Russian Federation is a sign that Putin is trying to revive the comfortable state of the Cold War by turning political terrorism into a factor of intimidation. One can see its roots in Russia’s threatening actions - shooting down of the MH17, creation of terrorist groups in Ukraine’s Donbas with direct subordination to the FSB and GRU, hidden and direct use of regular troops, political assassinations, as well as financing extremist and nationalist movements in Europe to name a few.