MOSCOW (Reuters) – Three Russian cities on Monday joined a growing list of places that are cancelling June 24 military parades over coronavirus fears despite a decision by President Vladimir Putin to press ahead with the main event in Moscow.
Penza, Pyatigorsk and Yakutsk all said they would not hold the parades due to fears of spreading the novel coronavirus. Around a dozen cities have taken similar decisions.
Russia has reported 537,210 cases of the novel coronavirus, the world’s third-highest total, and 7,091 deaths.
The parades, designed this year to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, normally happen on May 9 but were postponed until June 24 due to the pandemic.
Displays of military strength and patriotism that have become a hallmark of Putin’s rule, they are seen as morale-boosting events ahead of a nationwide vote on constitutional changes that could allow him to stay in power until 2036.
Moscow’s flagship parade is still set to go ahead, with coronavirus restrictions easing in the capital, but some high-profile guests such as U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien are no longer expected to attend, the RIA news agency reported.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday encouraged Muscovites to watch the parade on television, for what he said would be a more convenient, vivid and nuanced spectacle, a suggestion Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has also floated.
Late on Sunday, the Chelyabinsk regional government said on Facebook it would not hold the ceremonial gathering of troops and equipment on June 24, with Yakutsk and Penza following suit on Monday.
The Kremlin said it understood governors choosing to cancel parades, citing the special powers given to regional leaders in the wake of the virus’ spread.
“They are implementing these powers because the governors, as the president has said, on the ground see better how things really are,” said Peskov.
(Additional reporting by Maria Grabar and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Alison Williams and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)