The Corona crisis is forcing President Putin to take a very bitter step. This year’s May 9 was the highlight of the year.
Russian President Putin announced in a video conference with members of the Security Council that the celebrations will be postponed to May 9.
The possibility had been in the air for weeks, despite all the assurances. On Wednesday, a letter was released to the public that anticipated what was probably the bitterest decision for Russia in the era of the coronavirus pandemic: The Presidents of three veterans’ associations asked President Vladimir Putin to postpone the military parade of May 9 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, out of consideration for the health of the elderly war veterans. It is a well-established procedure in Russia that the Kremlin should first be asked publicly on such sensitive issues as this before it announces its decision. It was the same this time. At the start of a session of the National Security Council on Thursday evening, Putin announced the postponement of the celebrations across the country.
In the short speech, which he addressed equally to the citizens as to the members of this body, he once again emphasized the importance of victory in the “Great Patriotic War”, also as a mandate to future generations. He called May 9 a “sacred date”. That is precisely why he should not risk running this day as planned. However, everything had to be done so that the war veterans could feel the gratitude of the whole society, even if the “Victory Day” could not be celebrated as usual.
Putin also called on the social groups that have been helping to organize the “Immortal Regiment” for some years – a move of the younger generations with photos of war members from their own families – to understand the situation. All mass events, including these parades and regional parades in provincial towns, would have to be canceled for the time being. However, Putin promised to make up for all the celebrations later this year. He didn’t give a new date. However, he recalled that he had proclaimed the year of remembrance and glory all year round.
Struggle for “historical truth”
The decision will make 2020 an “annus horribilis” for the Kremlin. This was preceded by the emerging economic crisis and the postponement of the vote on Putin’s urgent changes to the constitution, including the possibility of extending his term.
The May 9 celebrations should have been self-assurance and demonstration at the same time. The Russian population, who is probably not as united with the leadership as on this on any other holiday across all generations and strata of the population, should feel solid and proud in celebrating the great achievement and immense sacrifice of the ancestors. Putin’s rule derives part of its legitimacy from it. Prominent foreign guests, including French President Macron, should have shown that Russia is by no means isolated and that the world recognizes the importance of Soviet victory in World War II. The Kremlin also hoped to use the military parade to demonstrate the clout of the modernized Russian armed forces – a confirmation internally and externally of Russia’s size and the strength that it draws from the enormous social effort in the “Great Patriotic War” to this day.
The doggedness with which Putin himself denounced the alleged “falsification of historical truth” in the West about the role of the Soviet Union in the victory over Nazi Germany in sprawling historical digression and numerous other officials, has already led to upsets, especially in Central and Eastern European countries. In December and January, the peaks were directed against Poland and its supposed role in the outbreak of war. There is currently great outrage over Prague, which had the equestrian statue of a Soviet general dismantled.
The defense of the “truth” about the war has been incorporated into the renewed Russian constitution. In the future, this will make deviations from the official picture of history a violation of the Basic Law. A critical, differentiated debate about the Soviet role in the Second World War is hardly possible now, because the official historiography understands alternative interpretations as an attack, indeed as an expression of a rehabilitation of fascism.
Rapid spread of the virus
Until recently, those responsible, especially Defense Minister Sergei Schoigu, had said that preparations for May 9 were proceeding according to plan. From the Alabino military training area near Moscow, images were distributed of the approximately 15,000 military personnel who tried their formations without any visible precautionary measures. The army justified that hygiene measures would be observed. In social networks, commentators made it clear that in such a crisis like this, it was all the more important to show military strength in front of the world – in an emergency without a spectator in the stands. However, this should have remained hidden from ordinary Russian media users. Putin has so far avoided even mentioning May 9 in all of his coronavirus pandemic television broadcasts.
The Kremlin’s decision is also an admission of the progressive spread of the coronavirus epidemic, beyond the particularly affected capital to all regions. The number of cases rises sharply every day; on Thursday, 3348 new cases (including 1370 in Moscow) were counted. A total of just under 28,000 people have contracted COVID-19 and 232 people have died of it so far.
There are strict exit restrictions and officially “holidays” in more than half of the country, initially until May 1st. The postponement of the festivities at the end of the war now makes it easier for the authorities to extend the restrictions – including a ban on entry for almost all foreigners – without taking politics into account.