Russia Displays Military Might at Parade

Soldiers march on Red Square Friday i i

hide captionSoldiers march on Red Square during the annual Victory Day parade on Friday. New Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said in a speech that Victory Day, which marks the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany, is Russia's most sacred holiday.

Gregory Feifer, NPR
Soldiers march on Red Square Friday

Soldiers march on Red Square during the annual Victory Day parade on Friday. New Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said in a speech that Victory Day, which marks the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany, is Russia's most sacred holiday.

Gregory Feifer, NPR
Tanks and missiles roll through Red Square i i

hide captionTanks and missiles appear in Red Square for the first parade there featuring heavy weaponry since the end of communism.

Gregory Feifer, NPR
Tanks and missiles roll through Red Square

Tanks and missiles appear in Red Square for the first parade there featuring heavy weaponry since the end of communism.

Gregory Feifer, NPR

Russia has borrowed a page from the Soviet Union to show it's back on the world stage.

Tanks and missiles rolled across Red Square in Moscow for the first time since the end of communism Friday during the annual Victory Day parade.

Bombers and fighter jets roared across the blue sky overhead. President Dmitri Medvedev, who took the oath of office Wednesday, presided from stands lining the Kremlin's red-brick walls. He said Victory Day is Russia's most sacred holiday, and he praised his country's military tradition.

"Today our army and navy are gaining power," he said. "They are strong, like Russia itself."

Military bands played as thousands of soldiers marched to commemorate victory against Nazi Germany in World War II. More than 20 million Soviets died in the conflict, which Russia calls the "Great Patriotic War." Among the handful of Muscovites allowed into Red Square, veteran Alexander Grigorievich, a tank officer in World War II, said it was important for Russia to display its strength.

"This is a message to President Bush," he said. "Those who want to change the world and start wars like the one in Iraq should watch this parade to understand they can't meddle in our affairs."

This week, former President Vladimir Putin, now the country's prime minister, said including military hardware in Friday's parade doesn't constitute saber-rattling. But oil-rich Russia has increasingly sought global influence by confronting the West. Last year, Russia resumed Soviet-era long-range bomber patrols, and Russian planes now buzz the decks of U.S. aircraft carriers in international waters.

Military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said Putin personally ordered Friday's parade to include military hardware.

"Putin wants to show that after eight years, Russia, as they say, is up from its knees," he said. "It's a resurgent Russia, almost as great as the Soviet Union, and he's standing there, a great leader at the stand. It's propaganda."

Felgenhauer says the Russian military is in a dreadful state and getting worse. Corruption is rife among the officer corps and a widespread tradition of brutal hazing of conscripts led to more than 450 deaths from beatings or suicide last year. And despite the money Putin has poured into the military, Russia has bought only a handful of tanks and some fighter jets to replace old, Soviet-era hardware.

Some of Russia's most advanced weaponry was on display Friday, but even that, the experts say, is woefully out of date.

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