Putin presides over Victory Day as coronavirus cases increase


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia celebrated 75 years since Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II on Saturday, but the coronavirus epidemic forced it to cut back on celebrations seen as boosting support for President Vladimir Putin.

A Mi-26 heavy transport helicopter and Mi-8 military helicopters fly in formation during a Victory Day air parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II during middle of the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in central Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2020. REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov

With the rise of coronavirus infections, Putin postponed last month’s highlight of the annual Victory Day celebrations, a massive parade in Red Square that showcases Moscow’s most sophisticated military equipment, to an unspecified date.

Dressed in a black rain coat, a dark-looking Putin placed a bouquet of red roses at the memorial to the eternal flame outside the walls of the Kremlin after a brief downpour in the Russian capital.

“We will certainly be celebrating this anniversary in depth and solemnly, as usual,” said Putin, pledging that Russia would host its traditional military parade and commemorative processions at a later date.

A column of soldiers marched after he spoke while a military group played the Russian national anthem.

Above, 75 military aircraft and helicopters, including Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters, Russia’s most advanced combat aircraft, flew over central Moscow despite a cloudy sky.

A group of fighter jets has left a trace in the sky in the colors of the Russian national flag. In the absence of the usual ground parade, public television broadcast last year’s Red Square parade.

Putin in previous years bathed in national pride as he watched Russian tanks rumble in the square with world leaders by his side. But a recent poll gave it its lowest approval rate in more than two decades, although it still stands at 59%, and the country’s economy is sinking into a deep downturn.

Moscow and other regions have seen blockages since late March to try to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, which has infected 198,676 Russians so far. The number of cases has exceeded French and German infections this week to become the fifth in the world.

Similar Victory Day overflights have taken place in other Russian cities, but some have had to be canceled due to inclement weather.

Fireworks will be launched across Russia as much of the country remains stranded, the defense ministry said.

Public processions commemorating Soviet war participants, which normally take place on May 9, were held online, with people uploading photos of family members and telling their war stories. The images were also broadcast on public television.

On the eve of the anniversary, Putin sent congratulatory letters to many former Soviet republics, as well as to the leaders of Great Britain, the United States and France, suggesting the need to revive cooperation from their nations during World War II to solve today’s problems.

Putin accused critics of Russia of reducing the Soviet war effort and warned post-Soviet leaders on Friday against what he called attempts to rewrite the history of World War II.

Editing by Giles Elgood / Andrew Osborn

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