PARIS: The war in Ukraine made its mark on Paris's traditional Bastille Day military parade on Thursday as France honoured its eastern European NATO allies, reports AFP.
French troops deployed close to Ukraine since the Russian assault in February had a special place at the event, attended by President Emmanuel Macron, his government and French and foreign dignitaries.
"The idea is to highlight the strategic solidarity with our allies."
Almost five months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the parade on the Champs-Elysees opened with the presentation of the national flags of nine allied guest countries, most of them neighbours of Ukraine or Russia: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
Troops representing France's contingent on NATO's eastern flank were next. Paris expedited the deployment of 500 troops to Romania days after the Russian attack on Ukraine, and has signalled its readiness to boost numbers if needed.
France also participates in ground and air operations in Estonia, and has sent Rafale fighter jets to bolster Poland's air defences.
Macron's increased military commitment to eastern Europe coincides with a reduction in French troops in Africa's Sahel region. Paris will have no more than 2,300 troops stationed there by the end of the summer, down from more than 5,000 a year ago.
On Wednesday, Macron asked the defence ministry to come up with a revision of the next procurement plan running to 2030.
"At a time when conflicts are intensifying, we must raise our targets," he said at a defence ministry event.
"Our operational target for 2030 must be revised to improve our capacity to meet the challenge of any return of a high-intensity conflict," he said.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has revealed gaps in the military capabilities of France which, like several other western countries, has been sending aid and hardware to Ukraine which, however, says it needs far more.
The current shift to artillery warfare in Ukraine especially has highlighted France's lacking capacity to produce large amounts of ammunition quickly.
The July 14 parade marks the anniversary of the 1789 assault by rebels on the Bastille, then a prison, an event that is credited with kicking off the French Revolution.
It is an annual opportunity to showcase France's latest military hardware, in a spectacular setting attended by many thousands of spectators lining the Champs-Elysees, and viewed by millions more on TV.
Some 6,300 took part in Thursday's parade, 5,000 of whom were on foot.
There was a respite from a severe heatwave engulfing France in recent days, with temperatures dropping to a manageable 25 Celsius in central Paris, much to the relief of the marchers in full uniform.
The show involved 64 planes, 25 helicopters, 200 horses and 181 motorised vehicles.
The air force demonstration, the parade's most spectacular part, included aircraft from European allies and the Patrouille de France fighter jet squadron -- already seen flying over the Cannes Film Festival this year for the world premiere of "Top Gun: Maverick" starring Tom Cruise.
Their roar could be heard even from far away as they released smoke, drawing the French flag's blue-white-red colours across the sky.
The Reaper drone, used in the Sahel in the hunt for jihadists, made its first Bastille Day appearance.
Like countless other cities across France, Paris has scheduled gigantic fireworks after nightfall.
But some, like Nimes in southwestern France, have cancelled the event because of a high fire risk brought on by unseasonal heat.