Russia's traditional military parade, held every May 9 to commemorate the 1945 Victory over Nazi Germany, was particularly remarkable this year. For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union 18 years ago, Russia rolled out heavy armor and missiles on Red Square in Moscow and central avenues of major Russian cities from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. And for the first time in eight years it was not Vladimir Putin who presided over the parade.
The procession of firepower was designed to show that Putin's eight years as President has revived Russia's mighty Armed Forces, and with it Russia's national pride. "The victors gave us great reason to believe in our national strength, self-reliance and freedom," new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in his V-Day address. His thinly veiled comparison of the Nazi aggression 63 years ago with NATO's eastward expansion today echoed a favorite Kremlin propaganda theme for whipping up Russia's resurgent nationalism. Medvedev also condemned "any ethnic or religious enmity." That was perhaps an all but tacit reference to one bitter irony to this year's commemoration: in the first four months of 2008, Russian neo-Nazi attacks against members of ethnic and religious minorities killed 65 people and injured 124 more; in all of 2007 they killed 73.
Medvedev was inaugurated on Wednesday in a lavish, grand and solemn ceremony. But on Wednesday as on today and probably not for the last time, his predecessor stole the show. Through force of habit or by design, TV cameras concentrated on Putin. Even Medvedev's inauguration speech centered on praise for his predecessor's achievements and promises to continue in Putin's steps. For his part, Putin segued smoothly from presidency to prime ministership. Formally nominated to head the government by Medvedev, Putin was confirmed in that post by a tame Duma in a rubber-stamp vote of 392 to 56 on Thursday.
"I think no one has any doubt that our tandem, our cooperation, will only continue to strengthen," Medvedev said after the vote. Indeed, no one did harbor doubts about that, nor about who plays the first violin in the tandem. Putin's keynote address to the Duma forced Medvedev to shift his Presidential State of the Nation Address, traditionally delivered in the spring, to sometime next fall. On Friday morning, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin reviewed the parade side by side on the presidential dais, aptly decorated with Russia's double-headed eagle.
A huge oil pipe spewing rubles might have been a more fitting emblem of Russia's resurgent strength than the arms of the moribund Russia Army. But even the rattling of a rusty saber served the political point of reminding NATO-friendly neighbors like Georgia and Ukraine, as well as other ex-Soviet Republics, who is still the big guy on the block. Still, with the price of bread and other foodstuffs skyrocketing, there was some grumbling about the circus. The popular Moscow daily Moskovski Komsomolets calculated that the cost of today's military parade could have bought the city of Moscow 25 badly needed new nursery schools.