For the tens of thousands of spectators who cheered on Russia’s spectacular military show on Monday, this was as much about looking to the past — as preparing for the future.
While the annual grand parade officially commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, it is also an opportunity for the Kremlin to show-off its modern day military might.
Throughout the morning the latest T-14 tanks trundled into Moscow’s Red Square, while supersonic jets roared overhead.
The awesome parade comes at a time when Russia’s military is perhaps more powerful than at any time since the Cold War.
Over the past decade, billions have been spent modernizing and retraining a lumbering fighting force inherited from the Soviet Union.
Huge investments have been made in a new generation of nuclear missiles, tanks, and fighter jets. Even the military’s uniforms have been given a slick new makeover.
The centerpiece is Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal, recently updated with intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to counter the U.S. missile shield.
It also has world-class anti-aircraft systems and fighter jets recently deployed, with devastating effect, to Syria.
Ramped-up foreign deployment
But what makes Russia such a formidable military power is not simply its weaponry — but a new willingness to deploy it internationally.
Whether it be the five-day conflict with Georgia in 2008, military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, or most recently air strikes in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin has shown a new assertiveness in foreign policy.
And it appears that even when President Vladimir Putin is punished for these interventions with foreign sanctions, they failed to dint his popularity back home.
Indeed, even after his country waded deeper into Syria’s civil war, Putin enjoyed an approval rating of 82%, according to the Levada Analytical Center.
A sustainable approach?
The military is an important source of patriotism for Putin’s government — and one he is willing to invest billions in.
The national defense budget has shrunk slightly in recent years, though it still remains one of the highest in the world.
As one of the world’s largest oil producers, Russia has been hit hard by a drop in global energy prices and been forced to make cuts across the board — including to its military budget.
And with oil prices remaining low, it’s possible we’ll see further cuts to Russian defense spending in the future.
One thing that doesn’t seem to be dropping any time soon, is support for the military among the public.