Posted by: Shaun | May 9, 2008

Soviet nostalgia on display in Red Square

Russian armor parades through Red Square -Source, APOn the sixty-third anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, Russia is looking toward the future through the lens of its Soviet past. For the first time since 1990, Moscow staged a parade through Red Square replete with all of its latest military hardware, including T-90 tanks, Topol-M road mobile ICBMs, and Sukhoi fighter aircraft. Reviewing the scene from on high were Russia’s new president Dimtry Medvedev and its familiar patriarch, now in the guise of Prime Minister: Vladimir Putin. It was Putin who decided to blend old-style Soviet authoritarianism and militaristic symbolism with a (relatively) capitalist economy buoyed by windfall energy revenues.

Now, the fruit of that strategy, renewed Russian power incarnated in a metal tank hull, is on display for all to see…or is it? As most of the coverage of these festivities points out, the event was in many ways a Potemkin rally, showcasing a few big-ticket items in what is still a largely dysfunctional Russian military. Long range bomber patrols and talk of a “new Cold War” may give some leaders pause, but Germany’s Der Spiegel is on the money when it writes:

In reality, Western capitals have no need to panic because of the saber rattling on Red Square. After all, France celebrates its Bastille Day every year with a military parade including tanks on the Champs Elysees and fighter aircraft flying across the Arc de Triomphe. Nations who once played a far greater role on the world stage need to bask in the glory of historical uniforms, machine guns and bombast. It eases the nagging pain of lost territories and influence.

The reality is that the Russian army is plagued by poor quality conscripts who are often abused by their officers in brutal hazing rituals. Its arms industries are advanced but highly inefficient. Its once vaunted navy is a shadow of its former self and its strategic patrols are in decline.

Russia has come a long way from chaos of the early 1990s; it has gained a tremendous amount of wealth and power in the years since the Soviet empire’s demise. Moreover, even a cursory reading of European history will show that one should never dismiss the capacity for Russia to overcome disaster and take back its place on the world stage. Still, it hasn’t reclaimed its mantle of world power yet and isn’t likely to do so for some time.

Photo Source: AP.



  1. What arrogance to criticize another country for having a parade!

  2. Mr. Roach,
    Thank you for your comment. Actually, my intent was not critique Russia for opting to have a parade. Rather, what I wished to suggest is that the message of military resurgence conveyed by the parade, one feared by many Western leaders, is in fact illusory. It seems to me that Russia wishes regain the great power status it has held for much of modern history, which is a perfectly reasonable objective. While it has made great social and economic strides toward this goal, the military element of the equation is lagging. The parade itself looked quite compelling; I wish I had been there to see it.

  3. […] Russia –increasingly animated today by Soviet nostalgia– may again begin to see itself as a potential exporter of power and politics. As the […]

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