MOSCOW — The Russian military got an unpleasant surprise on the eve of its only holiday.
Dozens of posters plastered across Moscow screamed the military salute "Congrats to the Russian Soldiers," but depicted the American warship USS Missouri.
The posters were swiftly taken down once the gaffe was realized on the eve of Defender of the Motherland Day, celebrated annually on Feb. 23.
Many city dwellers who saw the posters could not understand how an example of American military prowess in World War II had morphed into a symbol of Russian military pride. Military officials apparently couldn’t understand how the error occurred either and were unable to give any plausible explanation for the mistake.
A civilian error
Moscow's popular Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper spotted the error and alerted city officials. The USS Missouri title was so clearly depicted in the posters that it could not have been mistaken for any other warship.
The error was so obvious that Vycheslav Sedov, a Defense Ministry press officer, quickly disowned responsibility for the posters.
"I can tell you straight away that the Defense Ministry has nothing to do with preparation of the posters," said Sedov. He added that civilians created the posters and that they were clearly “incompetent.”
Vladimir Makarov, head of the Moscow City Advertisers Committee, said the posters were not tragic errors. "What the posters feature is a symbol of the naval fleet. Well, it’s a warship. We'll look into this and replace it with another warship," said Makarov.
The fourth ship to carry the name USS Missouri, known as the “Mighty Mo,” was the final battleship built by the United States. With its keel laid in 1941, the Missouri saw action at the battles of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and was site of the Japanese surrender to the Allied Forces on Sept. 2, 1945, which effectively ended World War II. The decommissioned ship is now a museum ship at Pearl Harbor.
Another failed PR mission
The Defender of the Motherland Day celebrations, seen by many as Men's Day in Russia, is always an elaborate affair with Moscow's streets decorated annually with flags and posters.
According to newspaper reports, the Defense Ministry this year spent millions of rubles in an effort to patch up its tattered image from numerous hazing scandals, desertions and the seemingly never-ending military operation in Chechnya.
In August last year, the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper also spotted posters around Moscow meant to mark Russian Navy Day depicting a Knox class frigate, a class of U.S. Navy ships.
Tai Adelaja is an Assignment Editor in the NBC News Moscow Bureau.