MOSCOW, Feb 2, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Russia on Friday marked 75 years since the Soviet Union’s victory in the major World War II Battle of Stalingrad, extolled as a symbol of the country’s resilience as President Vladimir Putin campaigns for his fourth term.
Putin was set to fly to Volgograd, the current name of the city, which in the morning held a military parade of some 1,500 troops, armoured vehicles and jets flying over a crowd of spectators bundled up in sub-zero temperatures.
The 1942-43 battle in the Volga river city was one of the bloodiest in history with about two million dead from both sides. It was a disastrous loss for Nazi Germany, and is glorified by Russia as the event that saved Europe from Hitler.
“This is sacred for us,” one Russian onlooker at the parade said, TV footage showed. She added that many of her relatives died in the war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the day “a very important date for all of us”.
Soviet victory and sacrifice in the war has been increasingly upheld by Moscow in recent years to stoke patriotism, which “has practically become a state ideology,” said political analyst Konstantin Kalachev.
– 200-day battle –
Moscow needs positive symbols while ties with the West are at a post-Cold War low, so dates like war victory anniversaries are used to “promote the image of a country capable of accomplishments and defeating all of its enemies,” Kalachev said.
The anniversary comes less than two months before the Russian presidential election on March 18, and Putin, who has been making near-daily trips to meet groups of workers and students, is set to visit the city’s war memorial in the afternoon.
It will be his second World War II-associated trip in two weeks. On January 18 Putin participated in the event marking the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad outside Saint Petersburg.
The battle of Stalingrad began in July 1942 and lasted 200 days, razing the city with aerial bombardments and house-to-house fighting.
German troops of Marshal Friedrich Paulus eventually capitulated on February 2, 1943, in the first surrender by the Nazis since the war began. Paulus was captured alive and became a critic of the Nazi regime.
The city was completely rebuilt after the war and renamed Volgograd in 1961, eight years after the death of dictator Joseph Stalin.