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The Pandemic Cancels The Celebration Of Victory In WWII In Russia

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tomorrow the people of Russia will mark the 75th anniversary of their nation's victory over Nazi Germany. But the coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of nearly all the planned celebrations. And as NPR's Charles Maynes reports from Moscow, that is a particular disappointment for President Vladimir Putin.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: It was supposed to be a day of triumph, not only for the Russian people but also President Putin - a red square parade, leaders of China and France at his side, and thousands of soldiers marching in salute all as Russia marked its rise under Putin and the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II in one grand celebration. At least, that's how it should have been.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: The Russian leader was forced to cancel those plans amid growing concerns over the coronavirus. All that's left...

(SOUNDBITE OF FIGHTER JET FLYOVER)

MAYNES: ...An air show of Russian fighter jets, heard here doing test runs over the capital this week. But the disappointment over the canceled parade was preceded by another setback for the Russian leader.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Last month, Putin was forced to postpone a nationwide constitutional referendum. The vote's key provision would have allowed Putin to remain in power through the year 2036.

FYODOR KRASHENINNIKOV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Analyst Fyodor Krasheninnikov says this was all orchestrated political theater, carefully timed to celebrate Russia's resurgence under Putin. And all of it, he says, undone by COVID-19.

KRASHENINNIKOV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "All Putin's plans were destroyed," says Krasheninnikov, "nothing has worked out." This has been a tough stretch for the Russian leader. Oil prices are down. The economy is struggling. And the coronavirus shows few signs of abating, despite promises by Putin early on that the government had things under control. And recent polls reflect his troubles. One government study showed less than a third of Russians actually trust the president. And instead of savoring his triumphant moment on Red Square Saturday, Putin is stuck at his residence outside Moscow on endless video conference calls with underlings, appearing, some argue, bored out of his skull.

ALEXANDER MINKIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Alexander Minkin, a columnist with Moskovsky Komsomolets, says the president just tunes out when his governors update him on the coronavirus. He doesn't listen says, Minkin, because no one could. It's an endless whirl of stats and figures from yes men who say hospitals and doctors have everything they need, and victory over the virus is just around the corner. It's a theme Putin might turn to when he celebrates Russia's victory over Naziism in his speech tomorrow. Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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