Russia flexes nuclear muscle on Victory Day
Russia was due Monday to march 20,000 soldiers and its most advanced missiles across Red Square in a parade marking victory in World War II and reinforcing the country's belief in its Soviet-era might.
But the annual show of force has been clouded by renewed doubts about the wisdom of staging the costly exhibition and reports that Islamist militants have been planning to undermine the celebration by staging new attacks.
A well-rehearsed 1,500-piece orchestra will set the tone to the hour-long procession by booming out festive marches as President Dmitry Medvedev watches from a podium in front of Lenin's mausoleum.
The 66th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany will culminate in a display of advanced S-400 air defence missiles and the Iskander-M and Topol-M -- the pride of Russia's nuclear defences.
The Kremlin resumed the tradition of rolling out its most feared weapons for the annual event in 2008, a time of renewed confidence that coincided with a booming economy and a sense that Russia had recaptured its global prestige.
Those parades continued through the storms of the subsequent global financial crisis, and Russia's cautious recovery from it has left some wondering whether the scale of the festivities was still worth the price.
Medvedev, as he downed an obligatory shot of vodka and shared a simple meal of buckwheat with a small group of World War II veterans in Moscow on Saturday, offered his response to the sceptics.
"Sometimes I come across the opinion that we roll out all this equipment and spend these resources in waste," Medvedev told the veterans.
"But watching these parades, people see that we have an efficient army that has capable equipment, that the army can perform real combat missions," he said.
"Parades play an enormous instructional role in our country," the Russian president added.
While Medvedev has burnished a reformist image, he has had more trouble winning the trust of Russia's more nationalist forces as he ponders his political future ahead of presidential elections next year.
His term has been hurt by periodic attacks from Islamists and persistent rumours that his predecessor and mentor Vladimir Putin not only wielded the real power but also harbours plans of returning to the Kremlin next year.
Russia has been on alert since a suicide bomber killed 37 people at a Moscow airport in January. The Chechen warlord who claimed responsibility has vowed to carry out fresh strikes in the weeks and months to come.
Police said they may have foiled one such attack on Saturday when they staged a security sweep in the southern city of Astrakhan. One suspected militant was killed and dozens more were arrested.
Local security officials said they had "stopped activities of members of a religious extremist group that was planning to carry out terrorist attacks during the days of celebrating victory in World War II".
© 2011 AFP