This year was to have been the pinnacle of Vladimir Putin’s political career, when the 75th anniversary of Russia’s victory in the Great Patriotic War, as they call the conflict against Hitler, auspiciously coincided with his own personal triumph: 20 years of iron rule in the Kremlin.

Putin was supposed to be master of ceremonies earlier this month when a traditional Red Square parade of missiles, tanks and troops rolled by, and again when the newly built Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces was to be consecrated amid huge fanfare.

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