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Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Friday, 9 May 2008 13:15 UK

Pomp and pride on show in Moscow

By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Moscow

Topol-M long-range missile on Red Square
The parade was a reminder of Russia's nuclear capability
It was a perfectly choreographed piece of theatre performed by the nation's armed forces - but with a strong political message aimed at the international community as much as the domestic audience.

In a scene which smacked so much of the long days of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, thousands of troops in new uniforms lined up in Red Square to be reviewed by Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who was driven around in that Soviet icon, the open-top Zil limousine.

After being deemed ready, they began marching.

They were watched by a select group of World War II veterans and of course the nation's elite, headed by the new President Dmitry Medvedev.

The national anthem, which is the old Soviet anthem in all but the words, echoed across the square.

After the soldiers came the most significant part of this year's parade: the military hardware.

First there were the lightweight vehicles, then the real battlefield equipment - T-90 tanks, armoured personnel carriers, rocket-launchers and howitzers.

And finally short- and long-range missiles, including the Topol-M, which is designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Air power

This was vintage Soviet theatre, topped only by the fly-past, which brought together the latest Sukhoi fighter-bombers and the ageing Tupolev-95, known also as the Bear.

Russian warplanes in fly-past, 9 May 08
MiG-29 and Su-27 fighter jets flew over Red Square

This Soviet-era, turbo-prop strategic bomber was pressed back into service last year to carry out long-range patrols above the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

On several occasions British and American fighter jets have been scrambled to ensure the bombers do not stray into national airspace.

In his speech President Medvedev stressed how the army and navy are now getting stronger just like the rest of the country.

"Their might today reflects the power of the Russian military, its long and glorious historic tradition," he said.

The order for the much more muscular military parade this year was given by the former President Vladimir Putin, before he left office on Wednesday and became prime minister.

He claimed it was not meant to threaten anyone.

But it is a clear signal that Russia believes it is back on the world stage as a serious player, with military forces to match.

Moscow feels it deserves much greater respect than it has received since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and it is determined to regain it.

Cheering crowds lined the streets everywhere with their mobile phones and digital cameras out to record every passing ICBM, tank and jet
Justin N, Moscow

But while Friday's parade may have looked good, many experts believe the Russian military will need years of massive investment before it will come close to matching any of the other major world powers.

In another parallel with Soviet days, there was also intense interest in the political choreography of the parade.

With Mr Putin now in place as prime minister after handing over power to Dmitri Medvedev, seasoned Kremlin-watchers were looking for small signs which might indicate who is really in charge of the country.

While President Medvedev made the only speech, the cameras of Russian state television lingered on the shot which showed Mr Putin standing directly behind the president.

There were also many shots of the two men sitting together.

It all seemed to reinforce the idea that Russia now has two leaders, with Mr Putin remaining very much at the helm even though he is no longer president.


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