Putin travels to Crimea to oversee military parade
Russia on Friday marked the 69th anniversary of victory in World War II with an impressive display of military might in Moscow and Crimea that served to underscore President Vladimir Putin’s triumph in bringing the Black Sea peninsula back into the Russian fold.
In stark contrast to the festive atmosphere in Russia, across the border in Ukraine the mood was grim, with V-Day festivities in Kiev cancelled and fighting erupting again in the strife-riven southeast.
The traditional display of war muscle in Moscow was the largest in 20 years. Eleven thousand troops marched across Red Square in bright and warm spring weather, followed by huge Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles and scores of tanks, rocket launchers and military hardware. Rounding off the parade, 69 military aircraft zoomed overhead, one for each year since V-Day.
After overseeing the Moscow parade, Mr. Putin travelled to Crimea to preside over a massive military show in Sevastopol, the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Crimea.
It was Mr. Putin’s first trip to Crimea after it split from Ukraine and rejoined Russia two months ago, and the Russian leader made the most of the occasion to emphasise his role in the historic reunification.
In a telling departure from protocol, Mr. Putin personally took the salute from the Russian Black Sea fleet, sailing in a command boat past a line of warships anchored in Sevastopol’s bay before watching a flypast by dozens of aircraft.
Addressing the military in Sevastopol, Mr. Putin hailed Crimea’s reunion with Russia. “I am sure that 2014 will go into the annals of our history as the year when the people living here firmly decided to be together with Russia. Thereby they reaffirmed fidelity to the historical truth and the memory of our ancestors,” Mr. Putin said.
Attending an open-air festive concert in Sevastopol, Mr. Putin was greeted as a hero, with thousands of spectators chanting “Putin,” “Russia” and “Spasibo” (Thank you).
As Russia celebrated, fighting was raging in Mariupol, a city of half-a-million in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, as government forces battled pro-Russia activists and their loyalists among local police for control of the police headquarters. Footage from Mariupol showed tanks rumbling down the city centre towards the blazing police building, crowds trying to block their way and a man lying on the blood-splattered pavement either wounded or killed.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said 21 protesters and one Ukrainian security officer had been killed in the fighting in Mariupol.
Russia Today TV channel said its cameraman was wounded in Mariupol.
Protesters claimed to have captured from the military an armoured vehicle in Mariupol and two Grad multiple launchers in Donetsk.
Two rebellious eastern regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, are set to hold local referendums on “state sovereignty” rejecting Mr. Putin’s appeal to postpone the vote.
In Kiev, authorities cancelled a military parade citing the risk of provocations and V-Day was marked by a low-key wreath laying ceremony.