Victory Day parades in Russia generally see throngs of people lining the city’s main thoroughfares, cheering on the tanks as they pass, the armoured vehicles and S-400 anti-aircraft systems and, the spectator’s favourite, the fearsome YARS intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a world-ending nuclear payload across the globe.
The flyover is another highlight, with the final flourish always the tricolour Russian flag trailing across the sky.
But this was not a normal Victory Day.
The public were allowed nowhere near it.
This time round the only real viewing potential was if you were inside Red Square and that is invite only.
Russia faces ‘imminent defeat’ as Putin hits out at the West – Ukraine war latest
Russia’s scaled-back Victory Day parade compared to previous years
Normally foreign media are accredited to film there too, but not this year.
Muscovites could catch the parade as it drove out of Red Square, but there wasn’t much of one to speak of.
Just over 50 pieces of military hardware, the only tank on display was the historic T-34 ‘Victory Tank’ from the Second World War. The full drive-by took just five minutes with the air show cancelled long in advance of Victory Day itself.
The onlookers we met, once they’d found a viewing spot at last, seemed sanguine about the reduced programme.
“It makes sense as a lot of the vehicles are needed in Ukraine,” Artyom told us.
‘This year they did everything tactfully’
It reflects the tone on Russia’s nationalist telegram channels.
“I must confess I was afraid that tanks and armoured personnel carriers, so necessary in the war zone, would be driven across Red Square,” wrote the well-known military correspondent Alexander Kots. “But this year they did everything tactfully.”
Granted, it tends to be the more patriotically-minded who bother to get up in the morning to see what they can of the Victory Day parade, but the mood we encountered was distinctly sour towards foreign media.
“You’re just propaganda”, “you want to say terrible things about our president”, and “tell the truth” were just some of the comments directed our way. We hear it more and more.
So many have bought into the Kremlin’s narrative wholesale
It tends to be the older generations who don’t care how outspoken they are.
That’s because so many have bought into the Kremlin’s narrative wholesale.
“It is all the US and Ukraine’s tricks,” said Andrei from Rostov, holding back the expletives. “Our grandfathers should have finished them off better, in 1945, so that this wouldn’t be happening now.”
Many younger Russians refuse to talk
Younger Russians tend to be more careful.
Many refuse to talk. One couple told us they would be thrown out of their university if they did.
Another woman said she felt militarism had no place in the 21st century given the war in Ukraine and other terrible things.
I asked whether she worried about calling it a war.
“It is not legal but it’s the name of what’s happening,” she replied. We did not broadcast her answer.
‘If [Ukraine] could do it on the same scale, they would’
Artyom listed the three assassination attempts that have seen nationalist figures targeted and killed since Daria Dugina’s death last summer.
There was another car bomb at the weekend in which the well-known writer Zakhar Prilepin was targeted, though it was his companion in the car who was killed.
Artyom was angry that Ukraine and its Western allies weren’t bothered by these attacks.
When I suggested it might be because of the scale and frequency of Russian missile and UAV strikes on Ukrainian targets, he said Ukrainians were shelling Russian cities too, in places like Belgorod.
“It’s not quite the same scale though, is it?” I asked.
“If they could do it on the same scale, they would,” came the answer.