President Vladimir Putin on Sunday discussed Russia’s traditional World War II Victory Parade, a patriotic display of brute military might that coincides this year with growing tensions with the West.
The parade in Moscow’s Red Square celebrating the 76th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II was attended by over 12,000 soldiers and more than 190 pieces of military equipment, including ICBM launchers and a cloudy sky flyby of nearly 80 military aircraft.
Putin, who has been in power either as President or Prime Minister since 1999, stood next to Soviet war veterans on a review platform set up in Red Square.
This year’s parade precedes the parliamentary elections in September and comes at a time when Moscow’s relations with the West are acutely strained on issues ranging from the conflict in Ukraine to the fate of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The United States and Russia have expelled each other’s diplomats in a series of retaliatory acts in recent months, and Moscow and the Member States of the European Union have been embroiled in a similar diplomatic battle.
“Russia will always uphold international law, but at the same time we will firmly protect national interests (and) ensure the security of our people,” Putin said.
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Sunday’s parade follows a massive demonstration by Russian forces near the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Kiev in 2014, and an increase in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Moscow said the buildup, which alerted the West, was a training exercise in response to the activities of the NATO military alliance and Ukraine. It has since ordered some troops to be withdrawn.
Smaller military parades took place on Sunday in cities across Russia and in the annexed Crimea.
A parade was also planned at the Russian air base Hmeymim in Syria.