MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin, citing the deepening novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, said on Thursday Russia would postpone its May 9 celebrations including a huge military parade across Red Square to mark 75 years since the Soviet victory in World War Two.
The Kremlin had hoped to mark the anniversary with particular pomp this year and that an array of world leaders would attend, but Putin said in televised comments there was now no choice but to push back the event.
“The risks associated with an epidemic that has not passed its peak are extremely high. And this does not give me the right to begin preparations for the parade and other public events,” he said.
The number of coronavirus cases in Russia began rising sharply this month, although it had reported far fewer infections than many western European countries in the outbreak's early stages.
Russia confirmed 3,448 new cases on Thursday, a record daily rise that brought its nationwide tally to 27,938. Officials say 232 people have died.
Several war veteran organisations appealed to Putin this week to postpone the parade, saying they wanted it to be a memorable and spectacular event, something that looked unlikely with Moscow and many of Russia's regions observing a lockdown.
Speaking in comments broadcast on state television nationwide on Thursday, Putin did not say when the parade would take place, but said that it would definitely be this year.
In power as president or prime minister for more than two decades, Putin oversees the May 9 military parade every year from a tribune packed with war veterans.
The Soviet military campaign in World War Two has become a sensitive subject for Moscow ahead of the 75th anniversary. Putin has accused Russia's detractors of diminishing the Soviet war effort and the country's huge loss of life.
Many western leaders shunned the May 9 event after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea pushed relations to post-Cold War lows, but this year the Kremlin had hoped many world leaders would attend again.
The heads of 17 countries, including India, France, Cuba, and Venezuela, had said they would attend this year, the Kremlin said in August last year.
The Kremlin had invited U.S. President Donald Trump, but Washington said it would send his national security adviser, Robert O'Brien. Trump had wanted to go, but was told by advisers not to, U.S. officials said.