On May 9th Russia celebrated the 71st anniversary of victory over the Nazis in the Great Patriotic War. The Victory Day parade equipment lacked the white hubcaps and red stars of days past. Prominent were green battle dress uniforms and the trademark St. George orange-black stripes adorned with stars. Since 2014, the parade has featured units in combat gear, marching on foot wearing helmets with (silly-looking) goggles atop and riding matte green GAZ Tigr armored jeeps.
The Victory Day parade is becoming a spectacle for linking the new narrative of the Great Patriotic War with contemporary Russian national identity and integrating it to a new Russian patriotism. The parades also serve the Supreme Commander, the President of the Russian Federation, allowing him to cement new policy by declaring pravda. This falls well within the tasks and jurisdiction of the president as his annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly is regarded as guidance related to the internal and foreign policy of the State. Some of the provisions of the Russian Military Doctrine, National Security Strategy and the Foreign Policy Concept are specified in the Presidential Addresses. Therefore it is important to regard these speeches as more than just attempts to bolster spirit, national unity and panem et circenses. The speeches should be put in a context of policy and listened to very carefully. What is said is equally important as what is being left out, especially compared to earlier Victory Day speeches, since this gives insight to changes is Russian thinking and policy.
Since 2011, the Victory Day speeches have focused on the battle against fascism and Nazism by the Soviet people, the Red Army and the great sacrifices of the Soviet people to liberate Europe in World War II. There is a stark contrast between the speeches of 2010 and 2014; the latter lacks any mention of Allies. In 2010 military units from the CIS countries and the Allies Great Britain, the United States, France and Poland marched alongside Russian troops with the German chancellor Angela Merkel sitting beside Putin.
Below are word clouds of the Victory Day speeches along with key excerpts from the speeches illustrating a clear shift towards a more isolated Russian position.
2009 – Cooperative Russia Seeking a Common New World Order
In exactly one year we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory. The Commonwealth of Independent States and other nations will celebrate this Day of Liberation with us. The victory over Nazism is a great example and a great lesson for all peoples.
Now more than ever it is obvious that a safer world is only possible if the rules of international law are strictly adhered to. That is why our country has suggested a new European Security Treaty. This security must be based on strict arms control and sensible levels of military preparedness, the broadest possible cooperation between states and an absolute commitment to the peaceful settlement of conflicts. We will resolutely do everything in our power to live up to these principles.
2010 – Russia With Allies
The victory in 1945 was not only a military but also a great moral victory. A common victory. All of the Soviet Union’s peoples fought for it, and our allies helped to bring it closer. And today troops from Russia, the CIS countries and our allies in the anti-Hitler coalition will march together triumphantly. March in a single formation as a proof of our common desire to defend peace and never to allow any revision of the outcomes of war, never to let any new tragedies happen.
The lessons of World War II call us to solidarity. The world is still fragile, and we should remember that wars do not start in a flash. The evil gains its strength if we shrink back or try to ignore it.
2011 – The New Arms of the Double-headed Eagle
New generations are working now to reinforce the bonds of friendship, cooperation and fraternity with the peoples with whom we celebrate this Victory together. I sincerely congratulate veterans from all countries, for Victory Day was and is our common celebration.
Russia’s armed forces give our country and its people reliable protection. Our officers and soldiers are always at the ready, today too, even as their comrades march across Red Square. Many of those here today have been decorated for courage and bravery.
The country’s authorities will continue to do everything to ensure that our servicemen are well provided for and that the armed forces keep modernising, receiving the latest modern arms and equipment, some of which we will see at the parade today.
2012 – Mutual Suspicion and Ideological Disputes Prevented the West from Recognizing the Threat of Nazism, the Narrative of the Efforts of the Soviet People in Defeating the Axis Powers Begins
We must be open in recognising that the Nazis’ aggressive plans did not meet with timely collective resistance and that the divisions between countries and their mutual suspicion and ideological disputes prevented them from being able to stop World War II.
Humanity paid a terrible cost for this, but in the end, the inevitable happened and responsibility and the collective determination to vanquish this evil finally triumphed. Countries rose in common coalition against the Nazi enemy. Today, we pay tribute to the countries that made an enormous contribution to defeating our common ruthless enemy.
Russia is consistent in its policy of strengthening security in the world. We have a great moral right in taking this principled and firm stand, because it was our country that bore the brunt of the Nazi attack, met it with heroic resistance, traversed immense hardships, determined the war’s outcome, routed the enemy and liberated the world’s peoples. This victory provides a strong foundation for our young generations too, who must know and remember that they are the successors of victors, of true soldiers of freedom.
Veterans, you stood shoulder to shoulder throughout this war, united as brothers, enduring hardships, deprivation and torment such as seem more than man can bear. But you did not give in to the enemy and became those who truly made victory with your own hands. You took strength in Russia’s glorious military traditions and in the true values that shone so brightly during those times of great trial, and you prove once more that victory is won not only through strength of arms, but through strength of will, unity and faith.
2013 – The Red Army and the Soviet People Become the Sole Liberators of Europe and Vanquishers of Fascism, a Multinaltional Inclusive Russian Nationalism Is Coined
The might behind this righteous unity is love for Russia, our home, our relatives and our family. These values bring us together today. Our entire nation fought valiantly to defend them.
We will always remember that it was Russia and the Soviet Union that disrupted the inhuman, bloody, arrogant plans of the Nazis and did not allow them to take over the world.
Our soldiers fought for freedom and independence, and in defending their homeland without sparing themselves, they liberated Europe and triumphed in a victory that will remain in history forever.
The victory in May 1945 is the sound of a great bell that celebrates life without war, a sacred symbol of loyalty to our Motherland which lives in each of us, a symbol of unity of the multinational people of Russia and their boundless devotion to their roots and history.
2014 – World War II Is the Great Patriotic War, Fought by the Red Army and the Soviet People Alone, Safeguarding the Glorius History of Russia Becomes a Mission
The victory was carved out on the frontline and in the rear, in the partisan units and underground. It was brought nearer by the courage of defenders of the beseiged Leningrad and bravery of defenders of Sevastopol, the valor of thousands of soldiers who stood firm defending their positions.
The outcome of the entire World War II was determined in the brutal battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, Kursk and Dnieper.
The Soviet people’s unbending will, fearlessness and firmness saved Europe from slavery.
We will take care of Russia and its glorious history and we will always put service to the Motherland at the very top — that is how it has always been in our country. And I am sure that is how it will be in the future! Glory to the people – victors!
2015 – The Enlightened Europe Failed in the 1930s, Post-Crimean Detente Is Sought and New Partners Are Honored as Contributing to the Great Patriotic War
Hitler’s reckless adventure became a tough lesson for the entire world community. At that time, in the 1930s, the enlightened Europe failed to see the deadly threat in the Nazi ideology.
The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the enemy’s attacks. The elite Nazi forces were brought to bear on it. All their military power was concentrated against it. And all major decisive battles of World War II, in terms of military power and equipment involved, had been waged there.
And it is no surprise that it was the Red Army that, by taking Berlin in a crushing attack, hit the final blow to Hitler’s Germany finishing the war.
We are grateful to the peoples of Great Britain, France and the United States of America for their contribution to the Victory. We are thankful to the anti-fascists of various countries who selflessly fought the enemy as guerrillas and members of the underground resistance, including in Germany itself.
We remember the historical meeting on the Elbe, and the trust and unity that became our common legacy and an example of unification of peoples – for the sake of peace and stability.
It is precisely these values that became the foundation of the post-war world order. The United Nations came into existence. And the system of the modern international law has emerged.
These institutions have proved in practice their effectiveness in resolving disputes and conflicts.
Besides the Russian servicemen, parade units of ten other states will march through the Red Square as well. These include soldiers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Their forefathers fought shoulder to shoulder both at the front and in the rear.
These also include servicemen from China, which, just like the Soviet Union, lost many millions of people in this war. China was also the main front in the fight against militarism in Asia.
Indian soldiers fought courageously against the Nazis as well.
Serbian troops also offered strong and relentless resistance to the fascists.
Throughout the war our country received strong support from Mongolia.
2016 – The Great Patriotic War Rules the Speech, Forgotten Are the Allies, Russia is the Sole Liberator of the World’s Peoples, the Home Front and the Efforts in a Total War Are Retold
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War: on June 22, 1945, the Nazis treacherously attacked the Soviet Union. The life of a huge country changed in an instant. And at this tragic turning point, there was but one choice, a superior choice to be made – saving the Fatherland became the top priority for the entire people.
A heroic and sacrificial road to Victory ensued. A host of the most challenging tasks had to be solved without hesitation. One of them was evacuating millions of citizens and industries to the east. All of this was to be done in the most difficult conditions of the enemy’s assault, in the heat of the war.
The veterans are proud of their grandsons and granddaughters – they have not let them down and will always be looking up to the Great Victory, to the deed of a heroic generation of victors!
Now it is hard to comprehend what extraordinary efforts it took to relocate and restore more than fifteen hundred plants. In several months, they started continuously supplying tanks, aircraft, ammunition and military equipment to the front. This greatest, unprecedented labour victory allowed our army to push the enemy back and smash an aggressor that harnessed the economic potential of almost all of Europe.
The deeds of home-front workers demonstrated the vital force of our people, its unity, victorious spirit and love for the Fatherland. Our fathers and grandfathers defeated a powerful and merciless enemy that many countries gave in to. It was the Soviet people that brought freedom to other peoples. It was our soldiers who paid back the Nazis and their allies in full for the millions of victims, for all the barbarities and atrocities on our land.
While the Victory Day parade or reception speeches do not enjoy a formal status such as the Presidential Addresses, they often very closely echo those statements and sometimes precede official policy changes as signals. Therefore it is very important that Russian presidential and other official speeches, statements and addresses in different forums are closely followed and analysed. While considered by some the obscure science of Kremlinology, it is good to bear in mind that Russian policy recognises Presidential Addresses as policy instruments. More efforts should be directed in strategic studies institutes and think tanks to follow up and analyse Russian official statements and their effects on different aspects of the Russian security apparatus.
The views expressed here are the author’s opinions, which do not necessarily reﬂect the views of the Finnish Defence Forces or any other government authority.