Luke Harding / Guardian Unlimited & Tmes Online – 2008-01-23 21:51:19
Moscow Returns to Soviet Era
With Weaponry on Parade
Luke Harding / Guardian Unlimited
MOSCOW (January 21, 2008) — It was one of the highlights of the Soviet calendar, and a chance for the world’s only communist superpower to show off its military might.
For ordinary citizens, it was also a rare opportunity to eyeball their gerontocratic leaders standing on top of Lenin’s tomb – and to check that they were still alive, and could wave.
But 17 years after the last communist tanks trundled through Red Square, the Kremlin has decided to revive the Soviet-era practice of parading its big weaponry.
For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, combat vehicles will return to the heart of Moscow, driving past the Kremlin during Russia’s annual military parade on May 9, Russia’s defence ministry confirmed today.
As well as six thousands soldiers in shiny new uniforms, Russian generals plan to show off their latest tanks and rockets, including the country’s new, and lethal, intercontinental ballistic missile, the Topol-M.
“Under the plan adopted by the president, land and air military equipment will be involved in the parade on Red Square,” General Yuri Solovyov said today. The parade will include the new S-300 missile defence system – which Russia has just sold to Iran – and 32 fighter jets.
The decision to revive one of the most pregnant symbols of the Cold War is likely to provoke criticism from Russia’s opposition, who accuse president Vladimir Putin of turning Russia into a pastiche version of the Soviet Union.
It might also raise a few quizzical eyebrows inside Britain’s Moscow embassy. Last week Russia forcibly closed the British Council’s two regional offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg using what British officials described as “‘classic KGB tactics”.
On Friday, Britain’s ambassador in Moscow, Tony Brenton, compared post-communist Russia to the Soviet Union after officers from Russia’s main domestic intelligence agency – the FSB – interrogated British Council workers.
President Putin has already demonstrated his fondness for Soviet emblems. He has updated the Soviet national anthem. Last year he said Russia should preserve the hammer and sickle on victory flags, arguing it was a part of Russia’s past.
Today, one observer said that the Kremlin was using different symbols from Russia’s Soviet and pre-revolutionary past to recreate a ‘new national idea’ of Russian greatness.
“It’s a very complicated postmodern mix that borrows from the Soviet past, but also from Russia’s imperial past and the tsarist era,” Nikolay Petrov, scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow said.
He added: “It’s an ideological concept. The point is to show that Russia was great before the revolution, was great during Soviet times and to say we are restoring its greatness.”
The Soviet Union’s military parades, to celebrate victory over the Nazis on May 9 and the Bolshevik revolution on November 7, were a twice-yearly feature of Soviet life, watched by millions live on TV.
The parades invariably featured portraits of Lenin and Stalin, as well as balloons, motorcades and rictus-like grinning folk dancers. Kremlinologists used the occasion to try and divine who might become the next Politburo leader – by scrutinising who stood nearest to the current general secretary.
“We will be using military vehicles. But we haven’t decided yet which and how many war machines will be used,” Oleg Yushkov, spokesman for the Moscow military district told the Guardian. “We’ll know by mid-March,” he added.
Combat vehicles were last paraded in Red Square on November 7, 1990, shortly before the Soviet Union vanished. No parades were staged from 1991 to 1994. Parades resumed in 1995, but without any of the tanks and 20 metre-long missiles characteristic of the Soviet epoch.
As well as rehabilitating old Soviet imagery, Putin has also boosted defence spending. After the Soviet Union’s demise, Russia’s vast military economy collapsed. The squeeze continued in the 1990s, but since 2000 spending has gone up, with last year’s budget of $31bn almost four times the amount spent in 2001.
Russian Bombers to Test-fire Missiles in Bay of Biscay
MOSCOW (January 22, 2008) — Russia has sent two long-range bombers to the Bay of Biscay, off the French and Spanish Atlantic coasts, to test-fire missiles in what Moscow billed as its biggest naval exercise in the area since the Soviet era.
Firing missiles off the coastline of two Nato members is the latest in a series of Kremlin moves flexing Moscow’s military muscle on the world stage.
Russian bombers joined aircraft carriers, battleships and submarine hunters from the Northern and Black Sea fleets for the Atlantic exercises, which come as the country enters an election campaign to choose a successor to President Putin.
“The air force is taking a very active part in the exercises of the navy’s strike force in the Atlantic,” the Russian air force said in a statement reported by Reuters. “Today, two strategic Tu-160 bombers departed for exercises in the Bay of Biscay, which … will carry out a number of missions and will conduct tactical missile launches.”
There was no immediate comment from Nato about the exercise.
Mr Putin has used military manoeuvres, including controversial North Sea overflights, to revive domestic and international respect for Russia’s armed forces which were shattered by the chaos of the 1990s.
He has also boosted military spending, renewed long-range bomber missions and approved a plan to upgrade Russia’s nuclear attack forces, which he said was needed after Nato built up its forces close to Russia’s borders.
But some analysts note that while the sabre-rattling is popular at home, Russian military spending in absolute terms is substantially lower than that of China, Britain or France and less than a tenth of that of the United States.
Discipline is also still a major problem for Russia’s armed forces, which rely heavily on conscripts and outdated equipment.
Russia last month said it would begin major navy sorties into the Mediterranean, with 11 ships backed up by 47 aircraft, that would then travel to the Atlantic for exercises.
The navy’s flagship aircraft carrier, the Soviet-made Admiral Kuznetsov, was leading the fleet in the Atlantic where Nato were trying to keep a close eye on Russian movements, Russian media reported.
“This is the biggest exercise of its kind in the area since Soviet times,” a spokesman for Russia’s navy said, adding that more details would be released later. There was no further information about where in the Bay of Biscay, which lies off the west coast of France and the northern coast of Spain, the missile tests were due to take place.
Russia’s air force said turbo-prop Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers, codenamed “Bear” by Nato, would join ATO, would join the exercise on Wednesday “From January 23, the aviation component in the zone where the exercises are going on will be widened and the following planes will take part: Tu-160, Tu-95, Tu-22 M3, Il-78, A-50,” the air force said.
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