President Dmitry Medvedev marked the anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany with a promise to arm Russian troops with the latest weapons and push reform of a military plagued by low morale and poor equipment.
Medvedev made the pledge as Russia’s biggest missiles and most advanced tanks rumbled through Moscow’s Red Square to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe.
Analysts say most of Russia’s arms are upgraded versions of weapons developed 20 years ago. Although the world’s second biggest arms exporter, a lack of investment and political will has prevented its own forces from getting new hardware, Reuters reports.
“The state will do everything so that our soldiers are adequately outfitted, so that the modernisation of our armed forces is actively carried out, and so that troops have the most modern technology,” Medvedev said before a parade where 20,000 troops saluted him and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The annual ceremonies have been a staple of Soviet and Russian pride since World War Two ended, giving leaders a chance to draw on patriotism and show off military might.
In contrast to Western military budget cutting, Putin has promised to spend 20 trillion roubles (438.5 billion pounds) over the next 10 years to renew Russia’s armaments, including new submarines, nuclear missiles and air defence systems.
Russia has been struggling for years to reform its armed forces, dogged by low morale and poor living conditions since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. While Russia crushed Georgia in a five-day war in 2008, the conflict exposed technical problems and ageing equipment.
Russia says 27 million Soviet citizens died during World War Two and the Victory Day holiday is among the most sacred in Russia. Military units practise for nearly five months leading up the celebrations.
The event is also marked in other former Soviet republics.
Weaponry on display on Monday included Topol missiles, T-90 tanks and military helicopters.
But Russian military equipment is often outdated. “These systems were developed 20 years ago and they are produced in miniscule quantities today,” said military analyst Alexander Golts in an opinion piece published in The Moscow Times.
Medvedev in particular has staked his presidency on an agenda to modernise Russia, which remains saddled with Soviet-era inefficiencies even as its economy has grown over the past decade on income from natural resource exports.
While the Kremlin may be serious about such promises, their fulfilment will require a sea change in the officer corps and weapons design bureaux, which are still largely focussed on the strategies and hardware required by the Cold War.
Other reforms aim to boost the number of professional soldiers as a fall in the birth rate eats away at the number of conscripts called to mandatory service each year.
Many young Russians say they pay bribes averaging $5,000 to avoid military service, renowned for harsh conditions and endemic bullying. Medvedev has promised to boost the army’s professional contingent by next year.
In the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, police using truncheons moved in to head off major clashes between Ukrainian nationalists and war veterans and their supporters who sought to mark Victory Day in traditional Soviet style.
Tension was high in Lviv after Ukraine’s main party, the Party of Regions, supported a move in parliament for the Soviet flag to be displayed on Victory Day along with the Ukrainian national flag.
There were no reports of injuries or arrests.