Russian President Vladimir Putin took the momentous step of canceling the annual Victory Day parade last week, under pressure from veterans groups.
On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that about 15,000 soldiers who participated in Victory Day rehearsals would be quarantined for 14 days, a stunning turnaround from the Kremlin’s previous claims to have the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak under control.
Putin resisted the unprecedented cancellation of the Victory Day parade in Red Square for as long as possible, especially since this year’s commemoration on May 9 would have marked the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Putin had invited numerous world leaders to the event, including U.S. President Donald Trump, and planned to make it a geopolitical triumph.
The plug was finally pulled by three Russian veterans groups, who wrote an open letter to Putin pleading with him to call off the parade. Russian politics being what they are, some Kremlin-watchers think Putin prodded the veterans into writing the letter to give him cover for canceling the parade without too much embarrassment.
A good deal of controversy erupted after rehearsals on April 1, as unconfirmed video emerged on Russian social media of massed troops standing in close proximity without wearing masks. The Kremlin unconvincingly claimed its military personnel have “a totally different regime of isolation that of course allows them greater freedom of movement.”
Video purportedly of Russian troops at the Victory Day Parade rehearsals in Alabino who aren't quite meeting the 1.5 meter social distancing requirement instituted by local officials.https://t.co/Zhut8EX9gt pic.twitter.com/JIQLTPFUMQ
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) April 2, 2020
The Russian Defense Ministry ordered a two-week quarantine at their home bases for ten to fifteen thousand troops who participated in Victory Day rehearsals as a “precaution,” and said all of the equipment they used in rehearsals – including ground vehicles and aircraft – would be disinfected.
The ministry did not state how many of the soldiers have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Moscow Times reported last week that at least 50 cadets who participated in rehearsals have become infected, along with the head of the Nakhimov Naval School, Rear Adm. Anatoly Minakov. Minakov was said to be hospitalized with symptoms typical of the coronavirus and awaiting his test results. Over a hundred other participants in the rehearsal were described as “under observation.” None of these accounts have been officially confirmed.
The UK Guardian noted the Russian Defense Ministry has been unwilling to admit any coronavirus infections among active military units, despite widespread rumors of bases and ships battling the virus, but has been a little more forthcoming about infections at military academies. The ministry claims none of the cadets it has confirmed as coronavirus-positive were involved with the Victory Day rehearsals.