Europe News

Coronavirus forces Russia to hold slimmed down Victory Day in blow to Putin

Key Points
  • Russia marks 75 years since the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two on Saturday.
  • The coronavirus outbreak has forced it to scale back celebrations.
  • President Vladimir Putin last month postponed the highlight of Victory Day celebrations, a massive parade on Red Square.
A Mil Mi-26T2 heavy transport helicopter (R) and Mil Mi-8AMTSh helicopters fly over the Kremlin during a rehearsal for the forthcoming 9 May Victory Day air show.
Sergei Karpukhin

Russia marks 75 years since the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two on Saturday, but the coronavirus outbreak has forced it to scale back celebrations seen as boosting support for the Kremlin.

With coronavirus infections rising, President Vladimir Putin last month postponed the highlight of Victory Day celebrations, a massive parade on Red Square that showcases Moscow's most sophisticated military hardware, to an unspecified date.

In previous years, Putin basked in national pride as he watched Russian tanks rumble across the square with world leaders by his side. But a recent poll gave him his lowest approval rating in more than two decades and the country's economy is slipping into a deep downturn.

Putin has described Victory Day celebrations as sacred to Russians but said a big public event was too risky during the pandemic. As of Friday, Russia had reported 187,859 coronavirus cases and 1,723 deaths.

In a slimmed-down celebration, Putin will lay flowers at the Eternal Flame war memorial outside the Kremlin walls and deliver a speech.

Fireworks will be let off across Russia as much of the country remains in lockdown, the Defence Ministry has said.

The Russian air force will carry out fly-pasts over more than 47 cities, as well as at its military base in Syria, with a full array of jets and helicopters, including Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters, the country's most advanced warplanes.

Public processions commemorating Soviet participants in the war that are normally held on May 9 have been moved online, with people uploading pictures of family members and telling their war stories.

On the eve of the anniversary, Putin sent congratulatory letters to many former Soviet republics, as well as to the leaders of Britain, the United States and France.

Putin has accused Russia's detractors of diminishing the Soviet war effort, and on Friday he warned post-Soviet leaders against what he said were attempts to rewrite the history of World War Two.

In his messages to foreign leaders, Putin  said their countries should build on the cooperation between the Soviet Union and the Allies as Moscow's relations with the West remain fraught.

"This invaluable cooperation experience is highly needed even today," Putin wrote to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Kremlin said.