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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Show of Power, Not Loyalty

The 50th anniversary of Victory Day will be a time of festivities and commemoration. And there certainly is something quite outstanding to commemorate: a 50-year long peace in Europe, with the exception of the Balkans. Since the time of the Roman Empire, this is a unique phenomenon.


The previous longest peace -- 43 years from the end of the Franco-German War to the beginning of World War I when the Balkans were also the exception -- was remembered as "the golden age," given that there had been almost constant warfare in Central and Western Europe in every century since Christ's birth.


But, for some reason, no one has publicly referred to the half-century Cold War as a golden age. Then again, the late Victorian years also assumed a golden hue in retrospect -- from the trenches in Flanders and on the Somme, the past began to look different. It may be that the communists and pensioners who turn out for the Victory Day parades bearing the red flag of the former Soviet Union are right and that soon we will all be moved to tears by the Soviet national anthem and look back with nostalgia on the dull, but predictable times of the Cold War when stability in Europe was ensured by a steady balance of forces.


Meanwhile, for the first time in 50 years there is war on Russian soil. Although the Russians have taken Grozny and other strategic targets, there is still fighting today in Chechnya and there certainly will be more bloodshed in the years to come.


Despite the war, the military parade on May 9 at Poklonnaya Gora will be entirely traditional, with freshly painted tanks from divisions in the Moscow region, and even right-angled columns, or "boxes," of cadets from Moscow's military academies, all wearing new uniforms and freshly polished boots.


Parade participants will undoubtedly include veterans of the war in Chechnya, but they will not stand out in separate rows. The traditional Russian military parade will make onlookers believe that this is a soulless military machine fully and unquestioningly faithful to whichever Kremlin boss is on the viewing stand.


But less than a month ago in Grozny, I saw another kind of parade. Five companies of soldiers and officers had formed next to the Grozny-North airport terminal to welcome First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and Interior Minister Viktor Yerin. Soskovets and Yerin gave several dozen decorations and medals to servicemen and then the companies marched.


Their lines were not very even and none of them had the same uniform. It was camouflage of different shades and colors -- from black-gray to light green. Some were in peaked hats, others in red or black berets or simply in knitted black round caps bearing the inscription "Italy." They were unshaven and the armored personnel carriers they departed on after the parade were dirty. But this was a combat force, not a parade-ground army.


Most of the generals, officers and soldiers whom I met in Chechnya considered that they had won this war and were proud of it.


President Boris Yeltsin, who sent them into battle in December 1994, has neither influence nor support in the army. When in mid-April Interior Ministry forces were preparing for the bloody storming of Bamut, Yeltsin was all of 100 miles from the battlefield visiting Nalchik on what was officially described as a sightseeing tour. He did not once find time to visit the troops in or near Chechnya. All the officers and generals I spoke to are outraged by this arrogant lack of compassion and leadership. This may be one of the most costly public-relations disasters of Yeltsin's political career.


On Victory Day in Moscow, President Bill Clinton and other Western leaders will be pressing Yeltsin to make concessions on NATO enlargement, Iran and Chechnya. But Yeltsin has very little room left to maneuver. The leaders of Russia's ruling military and political elite consider that the Russia has already made too many concessions to the West.


Any serious concessions that Yeltsin may be pressed to make during the Moscow summit are likely to be overturned. Even now, in anticipation of a possible future conflict, Russia is seeking potential anti-Western strategic allies, normalizing relations with Iran and Sudan. The Russian Army will be parading on Victory Day not to salute Yeltsin, but to show the world it is still there.





Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Segodnya.