The sun is shining over Moscow on Tuesday morning. Soldiers are waiting on Red Square, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's top personnel have also arrived. State television shows Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, wearing a white mitre, and state media representatives wearing dark green clothes for the May 9 military parade as if they were soldiers themselves.

Friedrich Schmidt

Political correspondent for Russia and the CIS.

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Shortly before ten, Putin and his guests from the Kremlin come onto the stage in front of Lenin's Mausoleum. At first, it was said that no foreign heads of state and government would come to the parade in Moscow this year either. The reasoning was the same as a year ago: it was not an anniversary of victory in World War II or the "Great Patriotic War".

In 2022, the parade, the first since the invasion of Ukraine, took place without any foreign guests at all. This year, on the 78th anniversary of the victory, there were guests after all. However, those from nearby countries that are more or less dependent on Russia: from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They are placed among old, order-hung people, presented as veterans, with Putin at the center.

Putin's "special operation" is ubiquitous

Soon the soldiers march, carrying flags across Red Square. As always. But something is different than it was a year ago. In May 2022, the Ukraine war had still been largely ignored. Putin's "special operation" was still considered a "planned" work of "professional soldiers". Too much war symbolism would only have done harm, normality was the trump card. At the traditional air show at the end of the military parade a year ago, fighter planes should have flown in formation of the "Z", the main symbol of war. However, the show was cancelled at short notice, officially because of the somewhat windy weather.

This year, on the other hand, Putin's "special operation" is omnipresent. Probably because there have been too many victims. And also because the "partial mobilization" proclaimed by Putin last September has carried the war into many families. Right at the beginning, the parade speaker says in a deep voice typical of such occasions that the Soviet army liberated Ukraine from fascism, and today there are also people on Red Square who are continuing the work in the "special operation" – Moscow has long portrayed the Ukraine war as a continuation of the struggle 80 years ago. Later, the speaker mentions a "decisive role" of artillery "on the battlefield" of the "special operation", highlights awards within its framework and the current use of military units in Ukraine.

Last year, the security measures around the parade were enormous. This year, the nervousness has grown even more. The background is drone strikes, explosions of fuel depots, derailed freight trains in Russia. Moscow even accuses Ukraine and the West of a recent drone attack on the Kremlin. Weeks ago, the march "Immortal Regiment" was cancelled, in which participants, including the president himself, parade through the streets with pictures of World War or Ukraine war soldiers. For "security reasons". Elsewhere, the cancellations go even further: in two dozen cities in the south and west of Russia, as well as on the annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, not even the traditional military parades are taking place.

Significantly fewer soldiers than usual

But in Moscow, the parade must take place: there must be so much normality. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu drives up in an open-top convertible. More than 8000,11 soldiers are at the parade, says the spokesman. This is significantly less than in previous parades. Last year, 000,530 men are said to have been involved. "More than <> participants in the special operation" took part in the parade, the spokesman says. Shoygu hands over to Putin, who gives his speech. Last year, the president did not use the word "war", did not even use his term "special operation". Instead, Putin spoke of a "proactive resistance" that Russia had opposed to "aggression" by the West in Ukraine.