Today, Belarus marked the 65th anniversary of its capital's liberation from Nazi forces with a military parade in Minsk. This date is simultaneously celebrated as the country's Independence Day.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in his speech before the parade that he disapproves of "the global superpowers that have conferred on themselves the right to impose conditions on the way in which independent and sovereign countries have to live."
Lukashenka speaks during Independence Day celebrations.
A few years ago such a phrase would have unambiguously been interpreted as Lukashenka's routine disapproval of the way in which his regime was being treated by the United States.
After all, it was former U.S. Department of State Secretary Condoleezza Rice who branded Lukashenka's rule "Europe's last dictatorship." And it was Washington that imposed visa sanctions on Lukashenka and his ministers and continues to maintain them today.
But given the recent Belarusian-Russian trade war, when Russia banned dairy exports from Belarus for a couple of weeks in June, and the Kremlin's displeasure with Belarus's access to the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative in May, Lukashenka's remark may have been directed toward Russia as well, if not for the most part.
As if to blunt his ambiguous expression about the "superpowers," in the latter part of his speech Lukashenka assured Moscow that "Belarus does not trade in friendship with Russia," adding that, "We are brotherly peoples, we are one people."
The parade in Minsk emulated Soviet-era parades on Red Square in Moscow, if on a significantly smaller, provincial scale. There were no ballistic missiles on show because Belarus has none. But there were tanks and armored personnel carriers, cruise-missile launchers, tracked and wheeled howitzers, and other items of military hardware.
All of these were followed by a civilian parade of sportsmen and gymnasts, as well as by proudly presented giant Belarusian trucks and other enormous vehicles with functions that are hard to guess at first sight.
The weather in Minsk was fine, and viewers, as shown by state television, apparently enjoyed the parade.
But on the eve of the military show, RFE/RL's Belarus Service spoke with someone who strongly criticized the parade, lamenting the devastation wrought by heavy tanks on the surfaces of Minsk streets during rehearsals for the parade at night.
"I liked a picture I saw many years ago. When American tanks entered the captured Baghdad, they had rubber cushions on their tracks. And they were occupiers in a foreign country!" Alyaksandr Halaunyou from the Ministry of Transport said.
"One should not stomp the asphalt with tank tracks! A parade is a parade, but one should not dampen people's labor and taxpayers' money. They do not waste their own money; they do dampen our money."
A former official from the city administration told RFE/RL that there is no use in suing the Defense Ministry for compensation, since the practice of tank rides along Minsk's streets has been happening since the Soviet-era without any contributions from the military toward repairs of the ruined blacktop.
-- Jan Maksymiuk