By Agence France-Presse
The bombastic military parade through Moscow’s Red Square on Saturday was slated to be the spectacle of the year on the Kremlin’s calendar.
Standing with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron, President Vladimir Putin would have overseen a 90-minute procession of Russia’s military might, showcasing 15,000 troops and the latest hardware.
But that was before the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, military jets will roar over an eerily quiet Moscow, spurting red, white and blue smoke to mark 75 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany. Putin will lay flowers at a war memorial near an abandoned Red Square and address a nation growing angry with his handling of the country.
The parade is not the only victim of the coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled Russia’s economy, hospitalised the prime minister and slashed Putin’s approval ratings.
Russians had been due last month to cast their votes on constitutional reforms that would have paved the way for Putin to stay in power until 2036, but those plans too were scuppered by the virus.
What was supposed to be a triumphant spring for Putin has become a political letdown, observers say, one that could be difficult for the president to recover from.
“This is the first time in 20 years that Putin is facing a crisis this serious,” said political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya. “This is a new experience for him.”
The timing of the pandemic, hitting just as Putin was unveiling major constitutional reforms, amounts to “a powerful blow to his plans”, she told AFP.