May 9th is coming up, and huge celebrations are set in the streets of Russia for their annual May 9 Victory Day Parade. As always, the Russians have plans to push through with their parade at the Red Square this year. There’s a catch, though – reports claim that the parade’s military participants will be down by almost 35%.

We have discussed the historical origins of the yearly military parade in our “Ukrainian Infantry Day” celebration article, where we compared the origins of the two. As the name suggests, the Victory Day Parade is a celebration and commemoration of the Soviet win against Nazi Germany in World War II. It was originally made a national holiday by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. It was continuously embedded in the Russian psyche throughout the decades, from Yeltsin to Putin, who takes large pride in their military capabilities.

Military observers familiar with the parade will know that this is the event where new Russian weapons (or those in development) are shown off to the public and for the world to see. This is done to let the world know that they are actively developing weapons, posturing their supposed “great military” with “superior” weaponry, as the majority of Russian fanatics would claim.

From a more societal perspective, these parades are done to remember history collectively as one nation, as all countries do in some form or way, albeit in different forms. Russia’s way of connecting its past to the current generation is through these parades. Russian commanders have also said that the parades were celebrations for the Russian people and not necessarily a show of strong militarism.

2020 Moscow Victory Day Parade (kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2020_Moscow_Victory_Day_Parade_041.jpg
2020 Moscow Victory Day Parade (kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

This year is different, though. The Russians have been engaged in their so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine (most of the world calls it a war), which does get in the way of the celebrations not just physically but mentally too.

The political climate in Russia currently is a mixed bag of pro-Putin individuals who support the invasion of Ukraine and those who are openly (and secretly) against Putin and his allies. Support among the public is said to be strongest among those 45-65 years of age and weakest in the 18-44 age groups. Of course, open opposition to the regime in deed, speech, or print will get you arrested, which would stifle much of the dissent in the country. Putin has also cut off Russia’s internet access to the winder world to prevent them from accessing Western media sources and social media platforms.  Russians are said to have two personas, the one they wear in public where they ape support for the regime and the one at their kitchen table among family and trusted friends where they may speak their minds more freely.

Not that public opposition to the war would mean much,  Russia is not a democracy but a crony-Capitalist system leaning towards authoritarianism. To the average Russian, the government is something that happens to them, and not by them.

At the May 9th parade Russians will see fewer troops and vehicles in the Russian capital on Tuesday. We expect the reason for this will be twofold. One, a large portion of the units in the Western Military District which includes Moscow is currently engaged in the “liberation” of Donbas and has taken heavy losses in men and equipment. This parade requires lots of advanced preparation including cleaning and repainting tanks and vehicles to make them appear brand new.  In order to have the parade go off with the usual large number of military units, the Kremlin would have to bring in units from the Central and Eastern Military Districts by train with their equipment and troops. This is a very long trip of several thousand miles each way and would drawdown forces watching their enormous border with China, something the Kremlin would not want to do.

The other reason may be the part the Kremlin would not want to say out loud to the West.  Having a huge army in Moscow with all their guns for a couple of weeks would make Putin nervous as it would give the leaders of the army enormous power in Moscow while a war is going very badly for them in Ukraine. Should they combine with the FSB or the oligarchs to depose Putin and end the war, there is not a whole lot Putin could do to stop it. The balance of power in Russia is split between the Army, the FBS security service, and the rich oligarchs who control the Duma or Russian Parliament. The war in Ukraine has seen both the army and the FSB blamed and punished for much of the failures on the battlefield so far and sanctions have stripped the oligarch class of much of their money used to bribe and control key members of the military and intelligence apparatus.

According to Forbes, the Russian Victory Day parade guide shows that this year’s parade will include only 25 ground combat systems and 131 combat vehicles. Last year’s celebrations involved 35 systems with 198 vehicles. That is about one-third less than previous parades. Infantry Fighting Vehicles in the parade were cut by 50%, along with almost all the artillery and multiple rocket launch systems as well. Presumably because they are deployed in Ukraine or have been destroyed there.

Looking at the numbers compiled by various sources, we can make thumbnail calculations of the “bleed rate'” of Russian military equipment on an average per day basis.

328 soldiers killed per day

15 tanks lost per day

37 Infantry Fighting Vehicles per day

3 aircraft per day

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2 helicopters per day

7 artillery pieces per day

2 Multiple launch rocket systems per day

1 anti-aircraft missile system per day

We do not know how quickly Russian arms manufacturers can replace these losses which amount to two entire armored divisions lost in 73 days of battle, but we can infer from the reduced size of the parade that they are not replacing them quickly at all. From what we can tell, supply chain and money issues have shuttered the main manufacturing facility for Russian tanks and fighting vehicles.

Right now, it appears that Russia is fighting with the army it has in inventory and it not able to replace losses with new equipment. If they were able, we would be seeing increasing numbers of T-90m tanks, T-14 Armata main battle tanks and their Terminator BMPT fighting vehicles arriving on the field as new equipment fresh from the factory.

Just a few days ago, SOFREP reported that Russia’s most modern tank, the T-90M, was destroyed by Ukrainian forces, which is another blow to morale after their precious Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, was sunk last month. Along with this, Forbes also reported that the Russians are unable to find T-80s for the parade after losing a ton of them in Ukraine, so don’t expect an appearance from the T-80BVM tanks.

T-80BVMs during the 2020 Victory Parade (Mil.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Many of our SOFREP readers had also pointed out that the T-14 Armata was the most modern Russian tank to date when we published our piece about the T-90M being destroyed. Well,  Russia has only managed to build around 20 (no known specific number of units). However, in the past three years, we have only seen three units of these in the parade. You’d think there would be more of these tanks, but it appears that the T-14s have not gone into widescale production yet. Previous reports have said that 80 tanks should have been ready by 2021, but this was later backtracked by the Russians, who claimed that they would be entering mass production in 2021.

Given the general age of Russian armored forces and the need for modernization, it appears that Russia has the funds to develop new tanks and vehicles but not the money to buy them for their army and replace the nearly half-century-old designs currently in stock.

It is also notable that the Russian Air Force is struggling to find operational aircraft for them to use. Reports have surfaced that only 15 helicopters could be used for the parade, and they have opted to mainly use their old MiG-29s for the overflight instead of their modern Sukhoi line of fighter jets. However, Su-35 and Su-25 fighters were still spotted at the rehearsal, to be fair.

2018 Moscow Victory Day Parade (kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2018_Moscow_Victory_Day_Parade_33.jpg
2018 Moscow Victory Day Parade (kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

With over 24,000 troops dead (Ukrainian estimates) and thousands of armored vehicles destroyed, expect to see fewer military armored vehicles, tanks, and troops this year at the parade. Estimates of Russian troops participating were at 10,000 personnel (33 marching columns), a decrease of 2,000 last year.  These will likely be new conscripts selected for their size and weight to look good in the parade.

A relatively rare appearance at the parade will be the Ilyushin Il-80, the Doomsday plane.  This converted cargo aircraft is fitted out to carry Putin and his staff in the event of nuclear war and act as a command center to launch its retaliation or preemptive strikes against, NATO, the US, and probably China as well to prevent them from marching in and taking what is left of Russia after an exchange of strategic missiles occurs.

However, you’ll be expecting to see more letter “Z” on your screens, as the letter has been considered a symbol of nationalist pride in Russia. Military analysts have also claimed that May 9 could be used as a way out for the Russians. However, with their slow pace and limited achievements, it is unlikely that they would declare a victory on May 9th. Reports have also surfaced that the Russians were going to use their celebrations to declare a full-on war against Ukraine, but they had already denied this claim as of writing.