MOSCOW – Russia staged a huge May Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square for the first time since the Soviet era on Thursday, with workers holding banners proclaiming support for President Vladimir Putin after the seizure of territory from Ukraine.
Thousands of trade unionists marched with Russian flags and those of Putin’s ruling United Russia party onto the giant square, beneath the Kremlin walls and past the red granite mausoleum of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.
Many banners displayed traditional slogans for the annual workers’ holiday, such as “Peace, labor, May.” Others were more directly political, alluding to the crisis in neighboring Ukraine, where Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March precipitated the biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War.
“I am proud of my country,” read one banner. “Putin is right,” said another.
Putin, unlike Soviet-era leaders, did not personally preside at the parade from atop Lenin’s mausoleum. But he carried out another tradition from those days by awarding Hero of Labor medals to five workers at a ceremony in the Kremlin. He revived the award, a relic from Stalin’s rule, a year ago.
Putin has described the breakup of the Soviet Union as a tragedy. In March, he overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy by declaring Russia’s right to intervene in former Soviet republics to protect Russian speakers.
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin told Rossiya 24 TV that more than 100,000 people had marched through Red Square. “This is not by chance, because there is a patriotic uplift and a good mood in the country,” he said from the square.
Russian television also showed footage of a May Day parade in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, with Russian flags and banners reading: “Crimea is Russia. Welcome home.”
“We are sure that the current patriotic uplift in Crimea will spill over into the whole Russian Federation,” Interfax news agency quoted the peninsula’s pro-Moscow leader, Sergey Aksyonov, as telling journalists.
“Western sanctions won’t affect us. Crimea was historically part of Russia, and it’s only right that we’ve become whole again,” said Tatyana Ivanova, a worker from Moscow celebrating May Day with four colleagues.
Putin has also revived the Soviet-era practice of staging huge displays of military firepower on Red Square to mark May 9, the anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II and one of the most important days in the Soviet and Russian calendars.