May 14, 2010:
For the first time since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Russia has used a large (11,000 troops and hundreds of vehicles) military contingent for its May 9th parade, in Moscow, commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. This was always a big deal, as 18 percent of the population died during that conflict, and it is referred to as The Great Patriotic War. The extent of the casualties (nearly 30 million dead) was kept secret until the 1990s, partly out of embarrassment, partly to not demoralize the population, and partly not to let the outside world know just how badly the Russians had been hurt.
This year's parade also included, for the first time, small contingents from wartime allies Britain, the U.S. and France. The British contingent was particularly striking, as it was 76 members of the Welsh Guards, wearing their dress uniforms (red jackets, black trousers and tall bearskin hats). Some of the best viewing locations were given to 3,000 grey haired veterans of the war, who tended to show up wearing their medals on their civilian clothes (a common Russian custom for such occasions.)
The large military contingent also included many current Russian soldiers wearing World War II uniforms and carrying period weapons. This included World War II era armored vehicles, particularly dozens of the famous T-34 tank. The assembled veterans were visibly moved by this. Overhead, 127 modern aircraft put on an eight minute flyover and display of their maneuverability. The parade took about 70 minutes to complete, but was weeks in preparations, with many people coming down in the evening to watch various contingents practice.
Many Russian weapons systems that are rarely, if ever, shown in public, were displayed in the parade. There were smaller, but similar parades in 71 other Russian cities, with 102,000 Russian troops taking part. All this was part of a morale building exercise, to reassure the Russian people that the armed forces were being rebuilt, after nearly two decades of decline. The end of the Soviet Union saw the armed forces lose 80 percent of its manpower within a decade, most equipment rotted away from lack of use, or maintenance, and there was little money to buy new stuff. That has changed in the past few years, and this year's Victory Parade was an attempt to display the new military, while honoring past accomplishments.