Despite earlier statements that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s busy schedule would keep him from standing at the podium for Moscow’s annual Victory Day parade, he did make a brief appearance on Tuesday. As it turns out, brief was all that was necessary. The parade was pitiful and Putin’s remarks were short.
In 2021 the Victory Day parade was marked by a flyover of Russian fighter jets and bombers, the march of the Immortal Regiment (a highly popular event in which relatives of those who fought in World War II process through the city carrying photos of deceased warriors), and 197 armored vehicles including tanks. In 2022, a bit more than two months after Putin launched his illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the number of armored vehicles in the parade was down to 131. That was a notable difference, but it was nothing like the decline seen this year.
In 2023, there was no flyover. The Immortal Regiment did not march. And the rolling stock was down to just 51 vehicles. Meanwhile, dozens of cities across Russia—not just those bordering Ukraine, but as far away as Siberia—called off their parades entirely. Far from signaling victory, this seemed like a day in which Russia sent a visible signal that its military force is spent.
And in Bakhmut, the Russian army, Wagner Group mercenaries, and another private army were all reportedly in retreat from areas of the city thousands of Russians had died to capture.
For a full rundown of the vehicles found in this year’s parade, you could not do better than this thread by OSINT analyst Oliver Alexander. You definitely need someone to walk you through it since, as Alexander points out, for the first time Moscow did not issue a guide for parade viewers showing the vehicles they should expect.
As CNN reports, this isn’t quite what was expected, even by insiders.
More than 10,000 people and 125 units of various types of weapons and equipment were expected to be displayed at this year’s parade, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Last year the ministry announced 11,000 people and 131 types of weapons were involved in the military parade, with an airshow of 77 aircraft and helicopters.
No helicopters. No aircraft. Fifty-one vehicles. And while there’s no count on the people, it’s pretty clear that the number standing in Red Square is quite a bit smaller than in past years. To even get to 51 vehicles, the parade was padded out with 10 MRAPs borrowed from Kadyrov’s Chechen forces.
Here’s something else to note about those vehicles. The count of actual tanks in the parade appears to be … one. A single World War II-era T-34 led off the parade. In past years, it was a group of these old tanks followed by T-64, T-72, T-80, and T-90 tanks. Not this time. There doesn’t even seem to have been an appearance by the elusive T-14 Armata.
Are the T-14s all in Ukraine? Are the rest of Russia’s T-34s in Ukraine? Is every tank mechanic in Russia so busy they didn’t have time to get these display pieces rolling in time for the parade? Considering the number of tanks Russia has lost in Ukraine, any or all of the above seems possible.
Reuters’ report on Putin’s brief speech in front of this diminished military included the statement that “A real war has again been unleashed against our homeland,” as well as claims that Ukraine was being held hostage to "Western globalist elites" spreading Russophobia. Even so, Putin declared that Russia would win out because of “greatness.”
While Putin was giving a largely downbeat speech in front of his shrunken military, Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was giving a speech that absolutely was not about “victory.”
As with anything Prigozhin says, this speech should be taken with whole buckets of salt. However, what he’s saying here is that Wagner has already left positions that it held in the city, turning them over to the 72nd brigade of the Russian army and to Gazprom’s mercenary force. According to Prigozhin, both of these groups immediately turned and ran, surrendering “three square kilometers” of Bakhmut. Prigozhin went on to threaten to abandon more positions after claiming that Wagner received only 10% of the artillery that was promised earlier this week (which is a reversal of Prigozhin’s last statement).
From other sources:
On Monday, Ukrainian forces reportedly carried out a counteroffensive in the area around Bakhmut, liberating a square kilometer of area, possibly around the O0506 road through Khromove.
On Tuesday, Russian sources report that Ukrainian artillery hit Russian supply lines on the M03 highway from multiple directions, forcing Russia to reroute materiel coming into Bakhmut.
Members of the Azov brigade are claiming that they have retaken large areas in the city within hours.” (Note: this advance, assuming it is separate from the other reported advance on Monday, is not confirmed through the Ukrainian military)
As for what’s really happening with Wagner … who knows? Within 24 hours, Prigozhin first announced the withdrawal of his Wagner militia from Bakhmut, then reversed course after saying he had received ammunition, then claimed he had not received ammunition and claimed that Russian army units and Gazprom fighters were running, and most recently said he has started to receive artillery after all.
Is Wagner staying? Is Wagner going? Is there any reason the Russian military allows Prigozhin to stay near the battlefield while making such derogatory statements about Russian forces? Who knows?
Tankie accounts in social media have now moved to “Bakhmut served its purposes of grinding down the Ukrainian army,” and have gone from praising Wagner to dismissing it as a “ragtag group of prisoners” that was never part of the Russian military in the first place. So there. Russia didn’t lose anyone at Bakhmut, because Wagner doesn’t count. There have also been a lot of restatements of Russia’s losses in World War II with the suggestion that what’s happening in Ukraine is just a flesh wound.
Meanwhile, at VE Day celebrations in Europe…
We don’t know when. We don’t know where. But we know that Ukraine intends to launch a significant counteroffensive against Russian positions with the aim of liberating significant areas of Ukraine.
As kos wrote on Monday, several military and political leaders have offered the same advice to Ukraine: Don’t rush. With more and more Western assistance pouring into Ukraine, nine to twelve brigades of Ukrainian troops still in training away from the battlefield, and a massive chain of logistics to work out in order to incorporate dozens of new weapons and vehicles, the longer Ukraine can wait in moving, the better.
Yes, Russia has used the time since the Kharkiv counteroffensive ended last fall to create a network of defensive lines in many areas of Ukraine, but it’s not clear that any more time will make these defenses more formidable. What is clear is that the Russian military is imploding. Both Putin’s underperforming parade and Prigozhin’s see-saw rants all point to the same thing: Russia is running low on equipment and material to carry on the conflict.
As those shortages become more dire, the fault lines that already existed in the Russian military become more obvious. The deliberately weakened command structure, the logistics operations that haven’t been updated since that single parade T-34 was new, the willingness to hand important aspects of the military off to private forces fighting for various oligarchs … the Russian military begins to look more like the army that brought down the Soviet Union. Like the Mujahideen. Like a collection of loosely-bonded warlords roughly coordinating toward similar goals, while always keeping their own personal endgames in mind.
Only a few weeks ago, it seemed that Bakhmut’s loss was inevitable. So much so that on April 15 I wrote an entire article fretting over how Russia’s occupation of the city was proceeding rapidly and worrying that it would put Ukraine in a position of defending the area around Kramatorsk before their new equipment and newly-trained forces were prepared. A fast moment through Bakhmut, even then, might have put Russia in a position to drain much of the force out of any coming counteroffensive by forcing Ukraine to move much of its new force to block a Russian advance.
Now the possibility of a big Russia push at any point on the line seems almost ridiculous. Russian forces may not have culminated in the traditional sense, but they seem to have reached chaos levels of infighting and cross-purposes.
Every day that they can afford to wait positions Ukraine for a better, more effective punch when it comes. The number of repaired vehicles coming to Russian forces is a relative trickle. Ukraine has well over a hundred Western tanks still on the way, and that’s just a portion of what is yet to arrive. Every day, Ukrainian forces are becoming more familiar with modern, combined-arms tactics. Russian forces are not.
If Ukraine sees an unmatched opportunity, they should move. But if they can wait … wait.
For all the pro-Russian Americans on the right … these are the guys you are supporting. (I’d send the same message out to Tankies, but most of them feel the same way as the Russians in this video.)
Dimitri of WarTranslated has been doing the essential work of translating hours of Russian and Ukrainian video and audio during the invasion of Ukraine. He joins Markos and Kerry from London to talk about how he began this work by sifting through various sources. He is one of the only people translating information for English-speaking audiences. Dimitri’s followed the war since the beginning and has watched the evolution of the language and dispatches as the war has progressed.