MOSCOW — Russian soldiers, tanks and rockets paraded across the cobblestones of Red Square on Thursday in the Kremlin’s annual display of the nation’s military might.
The parade was first held 68 years ago to celebrate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. Today it is a carefully choreographed event to remind Russians -- and the world -- that the country remains a major military power.
President Vladimir Putin reviewed the troops and addressed the nation, declaring: “We will do everything to strengthen security on the planet.”
Russia’s economy may now rank 10th largest in the world, but it still aspires to be a military superpower.
To showcase Russia’s military might, authorities spent millions of dollars to disperse rain clouds in the skies and repair asphalt ground up by tank treads on the ground. Lavish television coverage included placing TV cameras in the cockpit of a fighter jet, by the wheels of a battle tank, and atop the Kremlin’s 15th century clock tower.
Foreign military attaches watched from a VIP reviewing section as nuclear-capable rockets and S-300 mobile missile batteries rolled by.
The anti-aircraft missiles were a reminder of news reports earlier Wednesday that Russia is preparing to sell S-300 missile batteries to Syria’s embattled government.
This advanced system would limit the ability of the United States and other nations to operate over Syrian airspace or impose a no-fly zone. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Moscow after winning President Putin’s support for a conference to mediate a political solution to Syria’s civil war.
For four decades, Moscow has been an ally of and arms supplier to the Assad clan that has run Syria since 1971.
On Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron is to meet President Putin for talks in Sochi, after which he is to fly to Washington for a Monday meeting with President Obama.
On Red Square, the columns of tanks and rows of marching soldiers were a reminder of Russia’s determination to be a regional power.
On Wednesday, President Putin met with Russia’s Security Council and instructed the military to draw up plans to defend Central Asia and southern Russia in the event of a collapse in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American troops next year.
"We will bear it in mind that the Afghan army and law enforcement bodies are so far unable to guarantee security in Afghanistan,” Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told reporters on Wednesday.
It was a reminder that Russia’s massive military is maintained for greater goals than marching smartly in parades.