Russia did not hold its annual May 9 Victory Day parade commemorating the war in Europe against Nazi Germany for the first time in 25 years due to the coronavirus pandemic. Russia analysts say this cancellation does not bode well for Russian president Vladimir Putin's poll numbers.
Since Putin took power in 2000, these parades have served as showcases of military hardware and troops.
While publicly Russia said it called off the parade due to the coronavirus pandemic, a group of Russian and Ukrainian businessmen who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon speculated that additional factors may have played a role in the cancellation such as Putin's falling poll numbers and anxiety over a referendum extending his term limit.
Putin is struggling in polls due to the economic damage done by the coronavirus quarantine and shutdown, and a parade may not have played well in the public eye. Aleksei Kudrin, former finance minister under Putin who resigned several years ago over unsustainable military spending, estimated that 8 million Russians could become unemployed due to the pandemic and that two-thirds of all Russians have no safety net, creating the worst economic crisis in decades.
Quarantine has also forced Putin to postpone an April 22 national ballot on changes to the constitution. One measure on the ballot would have reset "the presidential term clock to zero." Putin's current term expires in 2024, but if the ballot measure is approved, he could remain in power until 2036.
The same businessmen cited anxiety over the ballot measure as another reason for Putin to call off the Victory Day pageant.
"This parade would have been seen by the population as money being wasted in a time of dire economic straits—and it was feared that the people would go so far as to register their resentment when this vote will eventually take place," they wrote in a position paper. "The Kremlin spends tens of millions of dollars on this parade—just on propaganda alone."
Speaking to the Moscow press, Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said this new position is disorienting for Putin.
"This [fall in approval ratings] is a new experience for him," she said. If Putin cannot address current severe economic problems, "social irritation will grow, there will be protests."