Russia virus peak 'passed', Putin orders WWII parade in June

Moscow (AFP) –


President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia has passed its peak of coronavirus infections and ordered a World War II victory parade postponed by the pandemic to be held next month.

The postponement of the May 9 Victory Day parade had been a huge blow to Putin, who had hoped to gather world leaders to watch troops march on Red Square to celebrate 75 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But with the number of new coronavirus cases declining steadily in Russia, Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to reschedule the parade for June 24.

"According to experts, the peak can be considered passed," Putin told Shoigu in a televised video link-up.

"We will do it on June 24, the day the legendary historic victors' parade took place in 1945," Putin said, referring to the first victory parade in Red Square after Germany's surrender to Soviet commanders on May 9.

With leaders including China's Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron of France set to attend, this year's parade had been meant as a major showcase of Russia's return to the world stage.

Putin was forced to announce its delay in mid-April as coronavirus infections surged and officials ordered lockdowns across the country.

After peaking in mid-May at more than 11,000 new cases per day, the number of daily infections has dropped below 9,000.

On Tuesday, the country recorded its highest daily death toll of 174 -- a number still far lower than in countries with similar rates of infections -- and said a record 12,000 people had recovered from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours.

Russia has the third-highest number of cases after the United States and Brazil, which officials say is due in large part to a massive testing campaign.

Authorities have been easing lockdowns despite the high number of infections, though tough restrictions remain in place in hard-hit Moscow until at least May 31.

- 'Strict safety measures' -

Putin said "strict safety measures" would need to be put in place for the parade.

"The risks for all participants should be minimised, or even better, eliminated," he said.

Another popular event usually held on May 9 -- the Immortal Regiment processions that see Russians across the country carry portraits of relatives who died in World War II -- will be held on July 26, Putin said.

Russian naval bases will also hold traditional naval parades that day, he said.

Putin has made clear in recent days that he believes Russia has overcome the worst of the pandemic.

On Monday, he made a rare recent appearance for a meeting in the Kremlin, after working remotely from his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow for the past few weeks.

The pandemic derailed Putin's plans for a triumphant spring, with not only the parade postponed but also an April vote on constitutional reforms that would have paved the way for the longtime leader to potentially stay in power until 2036.

Officials have said they still hope the vote can be held this year but have yet to announce a date.

The government's handling of the crisis has come under fire, with critics saying Putin initially appeared disinterested in dealing with the pandemic.

One survey by independent pollster Levada showed Putin's approval rating falling to a historic low of 59 percent in April.

In recent weeks he has taken a more direct approach, berating officials for not providing enough protective equipment or promising bonuses to medical workers.