Russia invites France to join Victory Day parade; Restores Soviet T-34 tanks

Russia on Thursday invited French soldiers to participate in a high-profile military parade in Red Square to commemorate 75 years since the end of World War II.

In a meeting with his French counterpart, Russia’s chief of staff General Valery Gerasimov said French troops were invited to march through Red Square together with Russians to mark the end of the war in Europe, the defence ministry said.

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to attend the large-scale celebrations on May 9, the day the Russians commemorate the defeat of the Nazis in what they call the Great Patriotic War.

US President Donald Trump has indicated he is also interested in coming.

The invitation for French troops comes as Macron is seeking a policy of dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin even on the most contentious issues, a stance that has raised eyebrows among some EU counterparts.

“We deeply respect the memory of the French soldiers, who together with the Red Army, battled against the common enemy and will be happy to see a French contingent among participants of the Victory Parade in Red Square on May 9,” Gerasimov told France’s top general Francois Lecointre.

He said “direct and open” dialogue with France was important, especially in the run-up to the commemorations, the defence ministry said.

At his meeting with Lecointre, Gerasimov also said Moscow was concerned about NATO’s increasing military presence near the Russian borders, highlighting the bloc’s upcoming drills.

“There are a number of issues causing serious concern,” Gerasimov was quoted as saying.

He said NATO’s drills will use an “anti-Russia scenario” and will practise “offensive operations.”

In the absence of dialogue, such events are of “clearly provocative nature,” Gerasimov added.

Lecointre for his part said the purpose of his visit was to “reach mutual understanding” when it comes to estimates of crisis situations, the Russian defence ministry said.

About 37,000 soldiers from 18 countries are to participate in the US-run manoeuvre dubbed Defender Europe 2020. The exercise will take place in May and June, mainly in Germany, Poland and the Baltic States.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has insisted that the military exercise was not aimed at Russia.

Russia restores Soviet T-34 tanks retrieved from Laos
Strel’Na, Russia (AFP) Feb 27, 2020 -
Thirty Soviet tanks of a type that became legendary in World War II are being restored to their original state in Russia after making an epic tropical journey from the southeast Asian state of Laos.

Some of the 30 T-34 tanks were still in use by the armed forces of the Communist state when Russia became aware of their existence and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu agreed their handover while visiting Laos last year.

More than 200 engineers and mechanics are now working on the khaki-painted tanks at a specialised repair factory just outside the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg.

Due to be fully restored by late March, they will roll across Red Square on May 9 in a special extended military parade to mark 75 years since the Allied victory over the Nazis, watched by world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron.

The tanks sent from Laos were built in the 1950s in Soviet-bloc Czechoslovakia.

Laos reportedly acquired them in 1987 from Communist ally Vietnam, where they were used in the war with the United States.

– ‘Weapon of victory’ –

The powerful and manoeuvrable T-34 tanks were a Soviet workhorse and particularly significant for their role in World War II, with more than 58,000 built between 1940 and 1946, and seen as key in the USSR’s military defeat of Nazi Germany.

“The T-34 was the weapon of victory, the main weapon that helped us to conquer our enemy,” said Roman Chepurnov, director of Tank Repair Factory No 61, part of the Uralvagonzavod group that makes tanks and armoured vehicles.

Now, though, they are a rarity in Russia, since many were remodelled after World War II or scrapped.

That is why Russia decided to transport them by sea to the far eastern city of Vladivostok and then across the breadth of Russia by train.

When they arrived, “their technical condition was really lamentable” and workers even found bird’s nests in them, said Chepurnov.

Laos acquired modern tanks from Russia as part of a military deal.

– Patriotic surge –

Russia, which over the last years has placed ever greater emphasis on the importance of the Soviet victory in World War II, wants the T-34 tanks to show in parades, museums and also for making war films.

Still revered today, the model featured in a patriotic action film called “T-34” that was a box office hit last year.

Another film, “Tanks,” released in 2018, told the story of the engineer who developed the tank, Mikhail Koshkin.

Koshkin and his team drove more than 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) across the country in two prototypes in spring 1940, months before the Nazi invasion, to demonstrate to Stalin the superiority of their design.

The role of the Soviet Union in World War II victory over the Nazis is an immense source of pride in Russia and the Kremlin makes it the centrepiece of patriotic campaigns.

In recent months, Russia has wrangled with Poland and Ukraine over their role in the war while they accuse Russia of ignoring the 1939 Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact.

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Saudi-led coalition says Yemen rebel depots hit in Sanaa

Riyadh (AFP) Feb 23, 2020

The Saudi-led coalition said it launched air raids Sunday targeting ballistic missile and drone depots in Yemen’s capital of the Iran-backed Huthis, two days after the rebels fired missiles into the kingdom.

Turki al-Maliki, spokesman for the coalition fighting alongside Yemen’s internationally-recognised government, said the strikes were in retaliation for ballistic missiles attacks on “civilian targets” in Saudi Arabia.

The coalition “carried out a unique military operation to destroy legitima … read more

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