I came across this story on Twitter, which I’ve translated using Google:
During the Victory Day parade, Vladimir Putin’s guard firmly pushed the veteran of the Great Patriotic War, who was walking next to him, from the president. After that, Putin personally approached him and suggested going to the Alexander Garden and laying flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If you follow the link you can watch a video of the events unfold, and you can clearly see this man in uniform being manhandled by a goon in a suit. If this veteran of the Great Patriotic War was 18 in May 1945 he’d be 91 now. I must say, for a man that age he looks awfully sprightly – almost all the British or American WWII vets are wheelchair bound (George Bush Snr. for example, who is 93 years old).
The victory celebrations in Russia underwent somewhat of a revival during Vladimir Putin’s rule and are now seen as much as a celebration of his new, assertive Russia as anything else. But the veterans played an important symbolic role at the parades and other celebrations (Defender of the Fatherland Day, for example), without whom the whole thing would have looked a bit like something a South American dictatorship might have put on. Provided the link to the defeat of the Nazis can be maintained it remains authentic, and the presence of veterans reinforced that. But what happens when the veterans have all died off?
Life expectancy in Russia for men is just shy of 65 for men, and was even lower for those who lived through the war. It is frankly quite incredible that any Russian war veteran should even be alive now, let alone wandering alone and unaided alongside Putin’s entourage and able to withstand a shove from a security guard without falling over. I don’t know if the whole thing was staged, but I am pretty sure that whoever this man in uniform is, he wasn’t wearing one during the Great Patriotic War. I’ll be interested to hear what story gets told about him in the coming days, and how many Russia-watchers repeat it uncritically.
Apparently the veteran is one Dmitri Sirkachev and born in 1924, making him 94. All I can say is that he is in incredibly good shape for a man of that age. I suspect we’re going to be seeing WWII veterans at these parades for a decade or two yet.