Tanks return to Red Square as Russia flaunts military might

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The Independent Online

Missile launchers and tanks rolled across Red Square yesterday for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, as Russia flexed its military muscles at the annual celebration of its triumph over Nazi Germany.

Fighter jets tore through the sky, and more than 8,000 soldiers goose-stepped across the vast expanse in the heart of Moscow, saluting the Russian flag under the watchful eye of the new President, Dmitry Medvedev, and – just behind his shoulder – his predecessor and now Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

It was Mr Putin who ordered the revival of the Soviet-era practice of parading military hardware on Victory Day. He has said the parade was not meant as a gesture to Western countries, but was simply a reflection of Russia's renewed pride and standing.

Some military analysts believe the Russian army still relies on outdated equipment, and consists mainly of badly prepared and underpaid conscripts. The country has nearly quadrupled its defence spending in recent years, and yesterday Mr Medvedev declared that the military was "getting stronger, like Russia itself".

Mr Putin has used Victory Day before to suggest similarities between Nazi Germany and the current US administration, and while Mr Medvedev was rather more restrained, he made hints to the same effect, saying that it was important not to treat international law with contempt.

Russia has been angered over the past year by the West's willingness to redraw Serbia's boundaries and recognise Kosovo.

"The history of world wars warns us that armed conflicts do not start by themselves," said Mr Medvedev, with a steely face and clipped diction that seemed to emulate his predecessor.

"They are provoked by those whose irresponsible ambitions are placed above the interests of countries and whole continents."

Victory Day is one of Russia's most important holidays, with the triumph in what Muscovites call the Great Patriotic War a source of much national pride and passion.

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