Sixty-nine years have passed since the end of World War II, and on Friday Russia put on an incredible show to mark the occasion. In a deep-throated paean to military might, the country's armed forces paraded their hardware through the streets of Moscow. The spectacle of Victory Day provided a moment for President Vladimir Putin to deliver a perfect visual metaphor for a resurgent Russia.
From tanks to fighter planes to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers to goose-stepping troops, the Russian army proved itself fully fluent in the visual language of power. With Russian troops massing on Ukraine's border and the Crimean peninsula fully in Moscow's hands, this year's Victory Day went far beyond the usual commemorations of Russian sacrifices during what is known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia and as World War II virtually everywhere else.
For an American audience, the importance of the holiday might be difficult to understand, but the scale of Soviet losses during the war -- an estimated 27 million deaths -- means that huge swaths of Russia lost a friend or relative during the war. While the United States is no stranger to tributes to military might, the Russian holiday is on a far larger scale than its American equivalent, Memorial Day. In a moving remembrance of her own family's experience during the war, the New Republic's Julia Ioffe gives a sense of how deeply the war is still felt in Russian society, nearly seven decades after the guns fell silent.
Today, the political significance of Friday's events in Moscow can't be disconnected from the continuing unrest in eastern Ukraine. The day -- and its political significance -- might be summed up in the following two videos. The first is an AP summary of the Moscow parade. Be sure to consider the scale of military might on display here:
The second video comes to us from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, where a gunfight broke out between elements of the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists. The following news report shows footage from the running gun battles on the city's streets. The footage is the latest testament to unrest in the country's east, which U.S. officials say has been largely orchestrated by Russia as a pretext for a possible invasion:
Taken together, these two videos show the two sides of military power that Putin has put into play during the Ukrainian crisis -- the conventional forces perched on Ukraine's border and the special forces and intelligence operatives allegedly fomenting unrest inside Ukraine's borders.
Meanwhile in Slavyansk, a city in eastern Ukraine still under the control of pro-Russian militants, a group of separatists decided to roll out a set of armored personnel carriers seized from the Ukrainian army. Needless to say, they looked pretty pleased with themselves:
In what might be described as the day's crowning video, the Kremlin-funded RT network put out a magnificent piece of propaganda showing Putin arriving in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. While there, he reviewed elements of the Russian navy and delivered remarks defending his decision to annex the peninsula from Ukraine. "I think 2014 will also be an important year in the annals of Sevastopol and our whole country, as the year when people living here firmly decided to be together with Russia and thus confirmed their faith in the historic memory of our forefathers," Putin said.
While in Crimea, Putin took in a performance by a group of Russian fighter aces. The strongman looks wonderfully bored:
Throughout the day, the Russian government delivered a similarly blunt message of military might. The image below was posted on Twitter by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It shows a mobile ICBM launcher. Few more terrifying military devices exist in the world:
For ordinary Russians, Friday was also a day to indulge in a bit of Soviet nostalgia, embodied here by a wonderful little dance performed in Soviet-era military garb:
And we defy you to find a more fabulous band leader:
Meanwhile, here's video from the reviewing stand in Moscow, which gives a sense of the power projected by troops marching in formation and at speed:
And if there was ever any doubt, the selfie phenomenon has decisively arrived in Moscow. This correspondent can report that the day's most frequent trend on Russian social media networks involved selfies of Russian women in Red Army caps. This post very easily could have involved nothing more than a collection of myriad selfies featuring beautiful Russian women in Red Army gear. Instead, we end with this postcard from Moscow: