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Moscow stages massive display of military might in Red Square dress rehearsal for Victory Day

Pride of place was given to the thermonuclear RS-24 Yars ballistic missile - which experts believe can carry up to 10 warheads – as it was driven past rows of armed guards on a 16-wheeler vehicle

Russian military vehicles, including Yars intercontinental ballistic missile systems, drive in Red Square during rehearsals for Monday's Victory Parade

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

The Russian bear showed off its claws in a massive display of military might in Moscow today in a dress rehearsal for Victory Day on May 9.

The country marks the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II on Monday against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine to honour a conflict that ended 77 years ago.

As warplanes and helicopters roared overhead, troops marched in formation alongside self-propelled artillery vehicles through Red Square.

However, pride of place was given to the thermonuclear RS-24 Yars ballistic missile - which experts believe can carry up to 10 warheads – as it was driven past rows of armed guards on a 16-wheeler vehicle.

Russian MiG-29 and Su-30SM jet fighters fly in formation

Dictator Vladimir Putin unveiled the intercontinental weapon, which weighs 49.6 tonnes, and can travel up to 24,500km/hr with a range of 12,000km as a chilling warning to the West

The weapon of mass destruction was followed closely by several Iskander-M missile launchers while soldiers and servicewomen were seen marched outside the Kremlin waving Russian flags, performing salutes and smiling at the cameras.

With thousands of their troops still fighting in neighbouring Ukraine, signs of support for the military have grown across the country since the invasion in February.

The letter ‘Z’ that has become synonymous with the Russian military appears on billboards and signs in the streets and subways, and on television and social media. Yesterday, eight MiG-29 fighters also flew past in a ‘Z’ formation.

There are fears that 500 captured fighters could be “forced to go through Red Square for cameras”, according to The Times, in a humiliating display.

Three British fighters including Aiden Aslin (28) and Shaun Pinner (48) could be among them after they were captured by Russian forces in the besieged city of Mariupol last month.

Ukraine’s first deputy interior minister Yevhen Yenin warned that the symbolic date of Victory Day is like “red to a bull” for Putin, who desperately needs to secure a victory, adding that while the world remembers victims of war, Russia is “preparing to dance over bones in Mariupol”.

Russian service members march in Red Square

Cities across Ukraine are now preparing for an expected increase in Russian attacks as national holiday approaches.

The most intense fighting in recent days has befallen eastern Ukraine, where the two sides are engaged in a deadly battle to capture territory not under their control

Ukrainian troops have dug in around the nation’s second-largest city of Kharkiv while Russian forces have launched desperate attacks in a bid to conquer the southern port of Mariupol in time for the Victory Day celebrations.

Western military analysts said a Ukrainian counter-offensive was advancing around Kharkiv while the Russians made minor gains in Luhansk, an area where Moscow-backed separatists have fought since 2014

Meanwhile, Ukrainian fighters are making a final stand to prevent a complete takeover of Mariupol.

Securing the strategically important Sea of Azov port would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine during a 2014 invasion.

By Russia’s most recent estimate, roughly 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up in the vast maze of tunnels and bunkers under the Azovstal steelworks. They have repeatedly refused to surrender.

Ukrainian officials said before Friday’s evacuations that a few hundred civilians were also trapped there, and fears for their safety have increased as the battle has grown fiercer in recent days.

Kateryna Prokopenko, whose husband, Denys Prokopenko, commands the Azov Regiment troops inside the plant, issued a desperate plea to also spare the fighters.

She said they would be willing to go to a third country to wait out the war but would never surrender to Russia because that would mean “filtration camps, prison, torture and death”.

If nothing is done to save her husband and his men, they will “stand to the end without surrender.” she declared.

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