Vladimir Putin has used an address commemorating the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany to accuse the US of attempting to dominate the world, agencies report. Speaking at Moscow’s annual Victory Day parade in Red Square, which this year has been boycotted by western leaders over the continuing crisis in Ukraine, the Russian president berated Washington for “attempts to create a unipolar world”.
Putin said despite the importance of international cooperation, “in the past decades we have seen attempts to create a unipolar world”. That phrase is often used by Russia to criticise the US for purportedly attempting to dominate world affairs. The US president, Barack Obama, has snubbed the festivities, as have the leaders of Russia’s other key second world war allies, Britain and France, leaving Putin to mark the day in the company of the leaders of China, Cuba and Venezuela.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has likewise ducked out of attending the parade but will fly to Moscow on Sunday to lay a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier and meet the Russian president.
As western sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine continue to bite, Moscow has increasingly appeared to pivot away from Europe and focus more on developing relations with China. The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, will be the most high-profile guests on the podium next to Putin. Other presidents in attendance include India’s Pranab Mukherjee, president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt, Raúl Castro of Cuba, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jacob Zuma of South Africa.
Russia used the parade to show off its latest military technology, including the Armata tank, in the parade, which included 16,000 troops and a long convoy of weapons dating from the second world war to the present day. Also on show for the first time was a RS-24 Yars ICBM launcher, which Moscow has said described as a response to US and Nato anti-missile systems.
The celebrations stand in contrast to the festivities a decade ago, when Putin hosted the leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. The Soviet Union lost about 27 million soldiers and civilians in what it calls the “great patriotic war” – more than any other country – and the Red Army’s triumph remains an enormous source of national pride.
On Saturday morning, many Muscovites sported garrison caps and black and orange striped ribbons that have become a symbol of patriotism in recent years. More than 70% of Russians say a close family member was killed or went missing during the war, making Victory Day an emotional symbol of unity for the nation.
In recent years, victory in what Russians see as a 1941-1945 conflict has been raised to cult status and critics accuse Putin of seeking to co-opt the country’s history to boost his personal power. The Kremlin has also used second world war narratives to rally support for its current political agenda, for example painting the Ukrainian government as Nazi sympathisers.
Later in the day around 200,000 people were expected to march through Red Square with portraits of relatives who fought in the war, in a Kremlin-backed campaign dubbed the “immortal regiment”. The parade will also see more than 100 military planes – including long-range nuclear bombers swoop over Moscow in a spectacular flyby. Smaller parades in 25 other cities will involve 25,000 soldiers and even nuclear submarines, according to the defence ministry.