Cablegate: Russia's Elitist Victory Day Celebrations

DE RUEHMO #1320/01 1340338
R 130338Z MAY 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Russia on May 9 celebrated the sixty-third
anniversary of the end of World War II with a parade on Red Square
that featured approximately 8,000 soldiers and 100 military
vehicles. For the first time since 1990, the parade showcased
military hardware such as empty ballistic missile canisters, tanks,
and a flyover of military aircraft. Dmitriy Medvedev marked the
occasion with a speech that praised the veterans of World War II,
asserted Russia's strength, and implicitly criticized the West. The
parade itself was an elitist affair, with access to Red Square
restricted. The majority of Russians either viewed the parade on TV
or watched the military hardware drive by after it completed the
official parade. Reactions to the parade were universally positive,
with young people enjoying the spectacle and older people
remembering what they perceived to be "better days." After the
parade, the Communist Party held a rally that criticized the current
Russian government. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
Medvedev Praises Russia's Strength, Criticizes The West
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (U) With Prime Minister Putin standing alongside, Medvedev marked
the sixty-third anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany with a
speech that sang the praises of World War II veterans and proclaimed
that the Russian military was "growing stronger, like Russia
itself." Victory Day was a holiday, he said, to honor World War II
veterans who realized that the "real purpose of the military was to
provide reliable defense for the Motherland." Medvedev thanked the
veterans for not allowing Russia to "be brought to its knees," and
for defending Russia's sovereignty and independence.

3. (SBU) While Medvedev avoided the bellicose rhetoric of his
predecessor, who at last year's parade likened the U.S. to Nazi
Germany, he did issue veiled warnings to and criticisms of the
United States and its allies. Medvedev stated that wars did not
simply happen, but rather the "flames of conflict are lit by those
who put their own irresponsible ambitions above the interests of
whole countries and continents." In an apparent reference to Kosovo
(and not, for instance, Georgia), Medvedev argued that countries
must not ignore international law, interfere with the affairs of
other countries, and "attempt to revise borders."

Parade Details

4. (U) Media reports indicated over 8,000 troops and, for the first
time since 1990, 100 military vehicles paraded across Red Square's
specially-reinforced cobbled streets. According to the newspaper
Kommersant, nearby subway tunnels were even reinforced so they would
not collapse. In addition to tanks and armored personnel carriers,
the parade also featured empty Topol-M canisters (no nuclear
missiles) and a flyover of Russian military aircraft. Media reports
indicate that twelve air force planes were used to seed the clouds
throughout the area to ensure good weather.

5. (SBU) As if to underscore the tandem nature of the Putin-Medvedev
relationship, Putin stood beside Medvedev as the soldiers and
equipment passed the reviewing stand. The reviewing stand itself
obscured Lenin's Tomb, and perhaps highlighted the ambivalent
attitude of the current administration toward the parade: obscuring
Lenin's Tomb distanced Putin and Medvedev from the Soviet past,
while the parade itself harkened back to the military power the USSR

6. (U) After the parade, many people gathered at Moscow's Victory
Park to enjoy concerts and spend time with their families. Moscow
Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov gave a speech in which he praised the bravery of
World War II veterans. Their sacrifice, he said, served as an
example to future generations. "Russians are a peaceful people," he
said, but are always ready to serve their country during times of

Separating The Cutlets From The Flies

7. (SBU) Attendance at the formal parade through Red Square was by
invitation only. Average Russians who wanted to see their country's
military might on display had to either content themselves by
viewing the parade on television, or by standing along the Moscow
streets near Red Square and watching the equipment roll by after the
parade. An older woman explained that "in our country there are two
groups, the cutlets and the flies. Russia's leaders are the
cutlets, and we are the flies." As if to drive home the point, city
street sweepers were used to squirt water at people who did not
remain on the sidewalk.

MOSCOW 00001320 002 OF 002

Reactions From The People

8. (U) The enthusiastic crowds cheered the tanks and other
equipment. The most enthusiastic response was generated by the
empty Topol-M ballistic missile canisters. Many young people simply
described the parade as "cool," and said they had never seen such
firepower in the streets of Moscow before. Many older Russians said
the parade gave them hope and reminded them of "better times." Some
vendors sold pictures of Stalin, although the only person PolOff
observed buying a Stalin portrait sheepishly said she was no fan of
the deceased dictator and had no intention of displaying the picture
in her apartment.

9. (U) Local radio talk shows have been more critical, with
commentators and callers alike questioning the rationale of the
parade. Some commentators questioned the need for such a spectacle
when, for many Russian youth, the idea of military service evokes
fear and derision rather than patriotic fervor. Others pointed out
that the parade disrupted both street and subway traffic for the
entire day, with major roads closed long after the parade ended.

Communists Stage Protest

10. (U) Members of the Communist Party were also on hand to watch
the parade and voice their approval of this display of Russia's
military strength. Many, however, criticized the Russian government
as a group of "criminals" who do not truly care about World War II
veterans. After the military hardware passed by, press reports
estimate up to 9,000 Communists marched down Tverskaya Street to
Theater Square, located near Red Square, and held a rally.
Communist Party Leader Gennadiy Zyuganov reminded supporters that
the equipment they had just seen was all created during Soviet
times, and said no new weapons were being created.


11. (SBU) The Victory Day parade was the latest attempt by Russia to
flex its military muscles and assert itself on the world stage.
Despite the excitement that the parade generated among some, many
more reforms and much more defense spending must occur before Russia
poses a serious military threat.


© Scoop Media

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