Vladimir Putin did not invent the idea of a great parade in Moscow to mark victory against the Nazis. Although during Soviet times the important date was the November anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, occasional military parades marked the big anniversaries of the end of the Second World War. Annual parades on 9 May started under Boris Yeltsin in 1995 but it was Putin who gave these parades their importance, an opportunity to demonstrate his country’s growing military might, including its most advanced and deadliest hardware, and to promote his nationalist and militaristic cult of the Great Patriotic War.
Symbolism of this sort can backfire. It was used to invoke a time of terrible sacrifices and historic triumphs. This should be important when Russia is at war again, except that now the sacrifice is combined with declining power and an absence of triumph. The problem was evident last year, when, as I then wrote, the parade was anti-climactic and Putin’s speech downbeat. It was a victory parade without victories.