Tens of thousands took to the streets of Moscow to mark Unity Day. This year the parade had a distinct flavour of defiance against the West.
Flags of the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine could be seen among the sea of tricolour Russian standards.
In the suburbs anti-immigration banners from nationalists filled the streets, signifying the growing strength of the far-right.
In a show of disunity, a group of pro-Ukrainian demonstrators also joined the parades. Vladimir Ivanov came to the protest to protect the rights mentioned in the Russian Constitution, but also in a show of solidarity with their neighbours.
“We support the struggle of the Ukrainian people, because they are Slavic people like us and we are very glad that they have overthrown Yanukovich,” he said.
However, others wanted to show the strength of Russia.
“Russians should show that they are Russians, that they are masters in their country and on their land and not somebody else’s,” said march participant Andrei Ivanov.
Speaking at a gala reception President Putin said that ‘threats will not force us to abandon our values and ideals’. The West imposed sanctions on the Kremlin over the crisis in Ukraine, though Putin denies Russian involvement in the conflict.
Unity Day is celebrated annually on November 4, a date chosen by Putin in 2005. It commemorates Russia’s defeat of Polish invaders in 1612. The holiday replaced the Day of Accord and Reconciliation established by former President Boris Yeltsin following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Before that November 7 was celebrated as the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.