Russia held a grand WWII parade before voting on Putin's reforms

Tanks and columns of soldiers marched through Red Square on Wednesday as President Vladimir Putin oversees the great monuments of World War II to boost patriotism before the vote to extend his rule.

After being forced to postpone the country's traditional May 9 Victory Day celebrations by the coronavirus pandemic, Putin canceled the parade the week before the July 1 public vote on controversial constitutional reforms.

Among other changes, the proposed reforms earlier this year will reset the presidential admission clock to zero, allowing them to remain in the Kremlin until 2036.

He announced new dates for the parade and votes - initially planned for April - despite the previous month Russia still records thousands of new coronavirus cases every day.

New infections rates have dropped in recent weeks, and cities, including Moscow, have lifted the anti-virus lockdown, but critics have accused Putin of continuing public outreach for their political purposes.

More than 75 years after the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany, this year's parade includes 13,000 soldiers from 13 countries, as well as old equipment and the latest military hardware showing Russia's fighting ability.

More than 20 new equipment will be on display for the first time, including Tosachka flame-throwers, T-90M tanks and Buk-M3 surface-to-air missile systems.

Officials say the date was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the first postwar march in Red Square, in which Soviet soldiers threw Nazi oaths before the tomb of Lenin on June 24, 1945.

During his two decades in office, Putin tapped into the legacy of the Soviet Union in World War II to promote patriotic spirit and support for his government.

Prior to the parade, he shouted to the West for "insulting Russia," playing the role of the USSR in winning the war.

- Fears of conflict -

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron have been scheduled for a shoulder-to-shoulder epidemic with the Kremlin chief as evidence of Russia's growing international influence over Putin.

The Russian president is now flown by the head of the former Soviet Union's Brexit statelets and close allies of Serbia and Belarus.

With more than 8,000 deaths and 600,000 confirmed infections, Russia has the third largest coronavirus caseload in the world, after the United States and Brazil.

The Kremlin said it was taking safety precautions before the parade - but participants were not wearing masks and mass celebrations were still banned in Moscow.

Dozens of areas have decided not to go ahead with their commemorative parades, citing concerns that an increase in cases could affect fewer and fewer hospitals nationwide.

However, events that indicate the Soviet occupation go to Russian-unplanned Crimea in St. Petersburg, Volgograd, and Simferopol.

Reflecting on these concerns, Moscow Mayor Sergei Soblin and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov both advised people to watch the procession on television rather than in person.

Before the event, war veterans were placed in the sanctum sanctorum as they sat on breaks in the stands in Red Square.

Care is also being taken for a constitutional vote, with pre-voting on Thursday and an official vote on July 1 continuing.

Alexei Navalny, the main opposition figure and former presidential hopeful, criticized the authorities for spending too much on the parade and urged his supporters to boycott the ballot.

"A crazy, greedy man who has become mad with power is going to be overwhelming the whole country," he said.

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