UPDATE – Putin reviews Russian military might as tensions with West soar

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MOSCOW, May 9 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin reviewed Russia’s traditional World War Two victory parade on Sunday, a patriotic display of raw military power that this year coincides with soaring tensions with the West.

The parade on Moscow’s Red Square commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two was expected to feature over 12,000 troops, more than 190 pieces of military hardware, including intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, and – weather permitting – a fly-past by nearly 80 military aircraft.

Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999, traditionally watches the display, which was due to start at 0700 GMT, with Soviet war veterans from a review platform.

This year’s parade precedes parliamentary elections in September and comes at a time when Moscow’s relations with the West are acutely strained over everything from Ukraine to the fate of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The United States and Russia have expelled each other’s diplomats in recent months in a series of retaliatory moves and Moscow and EU member states have been involved in a similar tit-for-tat diplomatic dispute.

Sunday’s parade follows a massive show of Russian military force near the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Kyiv in 2014, and an uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow said the build-up, which alarmed the West, was a training exercise in response to activity by the NATO military alliance and Ukraine. It has since ordered a withdrawal of some troops.

Smaller military parades are planned on Sunday in cities across Russia, in annexed Crimea, and at Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria. (Writing by Maria Kiselyova/Andrew Osborn Editing by Giles Elgood)