Putin Says Russia Passed Peak of Epidemic, Orders WWII Parade

(Bloomberg News/TNS) —
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, via teleconference call at Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow on May 26, 2020. (ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

President Vladimir Putin said Russia has passed the peak of the coronavirus epidemic and ordered preparations to resume for military parades marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II victory.

Moscow and other cities should stage the postponed May 9 Victory Day parades on June 24, “given that the situation in the country as a whole, in most regions and in the Armed Forces is stable, and that it is stabilizing in many places after the peak of infections,” Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a videoconference Tuesday.

The Kremlin had planned particularly grand commemorations for the 75th anniversary this year, before Putin was forced in April to postpone the nationwide events as the coronavirus spread. The annual Red Square parade in Moscow involving thousands of troops and Russia’s most sophisticated weapons has long been an occasion for him to project a sense of power and national pride.

With Russia’s economic activity declining by a third during a two-month nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the epidemic, the Kremlin is now seeking to limit the fallout.

The rate of new infections has started to slow in Russia, which over the weekend slipped to third place in the number of total cases globally, after Brazil and the U.S.

Diagnoses rose 2.5% in the past day to 362,342. Russia reported a record 174 deaths in the same period, taking the total to 3,807.

The Kremlin is considering holding both the parade and a referendum that would open the way for Putin to remain in power until 2036, RBC website reported last week, citing four unidentified officials.

The referendum, which was planned for April 22 before the epidemic derailed it, initially seemed to be a formality after parliament and the Constitutional Court took less than a week to rubber-stamp the changes endorsed by Putin that allow him to seek two more six-year terms when his current one ends in 2024.

However, the economic decline due to the restrictions and a plunge in demand for oil, Russia’s main export, have caused Putin’s approval ratings to slip, according to the Levada Center and FOM polling services. Levada last month reported Putin’s approval rating fell to the lowest level in two decades.

French President Emmanuel Macron had accepted Putin’s invitation to leaders of wartime allied nations to join him on Red Square for the May 9 parade. It’s unclear how many world leaders will be present on the new date, which marks the 75th anniversary of the first victory parade held by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as troops began returning home following the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev accepted Putin’s invitation to attend the parade during a phone talk Tuesday, according to his presidential website.

While Putin told Shoigu that “the peak for us has passed, according to the specialists,” he also ordered him to take “the strictest security” measures to reduce any risks for participants.

Mass marches known as “Immortal Regiments” of members of the public in memory of relatives who fought in the war will take place a month later, on July 26, because it’s not possible to observe social distancing at these events and more time is needed for the virus to subside, Putin said. They had also been planned for May 9.

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