Russia marches military might

MOSCOW: Russia was Saturday to show off its military might at a Red Square parade to mark its victory in World War II, in the latest revival of a Soviet-era tradition amid renewed tensions with NATO.

Ten thousand soldiers and 100 key items of military hardware were to be on display at the parade, which features heavy weaponry in a revival of large-scale show of power ordered by former president Vladimir Putin last year.

"Our armed forces... must be capable of reliably protecting the sovereignty of Russia and the peaceful life of our people, repelling any aggression against our citizens," President Dmitry Medvedev said in the Kremlin on Friday.

Russia's parade, marking the 64th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, will be the first such display since its war with Georgia plunged its relations with the West to a post Cold War low.

Russia and NATO have attempted to put relations back on track after the calamitous summer of 2008, but ties have again soured over NATO's decision to hold military exercises in Georgia.

Moscow has angrily condemned the war games as a provocation that risks adding to instability in the Caucasus region.

"The alliance should worry about real threats," the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Russia's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin as saying on Friday.

"The fact that they did not postpone the exercises in Georgia speaks of an absence of flexibility and political understanding on the part of the people taking decisions in the alliance."

Amid the familiar goose-stepping and martial music, all eyes will be on whether examples of Russia's formidable nuclear-capable long range missile arsenal make a rare public showing like in 2008.

A military spokesman told the Interfax news agency that 26,000 members of the army and 600 pieces of military hardware would be taking part in parades across the country.

Almost 10,000 soldiers and just over 100 items of hardware will feature in the Red Square parade alone.

"Of course it's expensive," Defence Minister Anatoly Serdukov said this week as Russia battles the economic crisis. "But this is not the place to economize."

Ex-furniture salesman Serdukov is in the process of implementing a massive and hugely controversial military reform aimed at eliminating the armed forces' Soviet era structures to prepare it for modern warfare.

The missile forces are also being shaken up over the next decade as old Soviet warhorses are phased out and the military brings in a new generation of missiles.

The revival by Putin -- who also restored the music for the Soviet national anthem -- is a throwback to the days when Soviet leaders would peer at the proceedings from the top of Lenin's mausoleum on Red Square.

However in a bid to avoid comparisons with Soviet leaders, Putin and Medvedev surveyed events last year from a podium rather than the mausoleum which was largely hidden by a hoarding.