In what can be described as a solemn speech on Saturday, President Vladimir Putin told Russians they are “invincible” when they stand together as the country marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in lockdown from the coronavirus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
While the president spoke, he made no mention of the Coronavirus, despite Russia having the fifth-highest number of confirmed infections in the world.
With cases surging and authorities urging Russians to stay in their homes, celebrations of this year’s Victory Day were muted after the Kremlin grudgingly postponed plans for a grand parade with world leaders.
Instead of columns of military hardware and thousands of troops marching through Red Square as planned, Putin walked alone to lay flowers at the Eternal Flame outside the red brick walls of the Kremlin.
Putin instead highlighted the sacrifices made by the Soviet Union in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War and hinted at the threat now facing the country.
“Our veterans fought for life, against death. And we will always be equal to their unity and endurance,” Putin said.
“We know and firmly believe that we are invincible when we stand together.”
An honour guard marched past Putin after his speech, as Russian television showed images of Red Square empty under cloudy skies.
Military helicopters, bombers and fighter jets flew over the city, releasing smoke in the red, white and blue of the Russian flag. State television counted down a minute of silence later in the evening, to commemorate the millions who perished in the war.
The pandemic hit Russia later than western Europe but the country has seen a major increase in cases, with more than 10,000 new infections registered every day this week.
On Saturday officials said the number of confirmed infections had risen by another 10,817 to reach a total of 198,676, putting Russia behind only the United States, Spain, Italy and Britain in total cases.
Russia says the increase is due in part to a huge testing campaign, with more than 5.2 million tests carried out so far.
The country’s reported mortality rate is much lower than in many countries, with 1,827 dead from the coronavirus as of Saturday.
Critics have cast doubt on the numbers and accused authorities of under-reporting deaths.
The pandemic has been a major blow to Putin’s political plans for this spring.
The postponed Victory Day parade, which was due to be attended by world leaders including China’s Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron of France, had been meant as a showcase of Russia’s increased global prestige under Putin.
He was also forced to postpone a vote last month on constitutional reforms that would have paved his way, after being in power for more than 20 years, to potentially stay in the Kremlin until 2036.
Officials are hoping both events can still be held in 2020 and Putin said Saturday that Victory Day celebrations would take place this year “properly and on a grand scale.”
But no dates have been set and much will depend on when the outbreak comes under control.