On February 8th, 1993 the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation adopted the decree ‘On establishing the momentous day for the Russian Federation – the Day of the Fatherland defenders’ giving for the first time the official recognition to the professional holiday of the servicemen which had the nationwide meaning. The decree said: ‘Paying homage to the historical tradition of respect for military service, considering the important social and political significance of the practice to celebrate the February 23rd as the day of all the defenders of the Fatherland’. From 1993 the day of February 23rd is the official national holiday.
There was no document establishing the February 23rd as the official Soviet holiday. However this day was annually celebrated in the USSR by the whole population. According to the Soviet historiography the honoring of servicemen was timed to February 23rd due to the events of 1918. On January 15th (18th), 1918 V. I. Lenin signed the decree of the Soviet of Peoples’ Commissars on the organization of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army and on January 29th (February 11th) – the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Fleet. On February 22nd was published the decree-appeal of the Soviet of Peoples’ Commissars ‘The Socialist Fatherland in danger!. On February 23rd took place the mass demonstrations in Petrograd, Moscow and other cities of Russia during which the workers were called for the defense of their Fatherland. This day was marked by the mass joining of the Red Army by volunteers and the beginning of formation of its detachments and units which soon prevented the German forces’ advancement near Pskov and Narva.
On February 23rd, 1919 the newspaper “Pravda” placed an editorial on the celebration of the Red Army anniversary. In 1922 on this day on the Red Square in Moscow took place the parade of Moscow garrison troops. In 1923 for the first time was issued a decree of the Revolutionary Military Council of the republic in honor of the Red Army and Fleet Day. Henceforth the greetings orders to mark the occasion became traditional.
After the Great Patriotic war was adopted the tradition to fire artillery salutes on February 23rd in Moscow, the capitals of the Union republics, the hero cities and in the hero fortress Brest. On this day are traditionally organized solemn gatherings, meetings with the Armed forces veterans, the flowers are laid on the graves of the fallen soldiers.
On March 13th, 1995 the President of the Russian Federation B. Yeltsin signed a Federal law ‘On the days of the Russian military glory (victory days)’ which ‘had played a decisive role in the history of Russia and on which the Russian forces won fame and respect of the contemporaries and the grateful memory of the descendants’. The list of the days included among others the day of February 23rd as the Day of the Red Army victory over the keiser forces in Germany (1918) – the Day of the Fatherland defenders.
Lit.: Веремеев Ю. Г. 23 февраля — происхождение даты // Сапёр. 2000. URL: http://www.saper.etel.ru/history/fevral-23.html; Декрет СНК «Об организации Рабоче-Крестьянской Красной Армии» от 15 января 1918 г. [Электронный ресурс] // Боевые действия Красной армии в ВОВ. Б. д. URL: http://bdsa.ru/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=223&Itemid=30; О днях воинской славы (победных днях) России [Электронный ресурс] // Законодательство Российской Федерации. 2002. URL: http://www.femida.info/51/fzodvs001.htm; Опалихин В. У истоков Красной армии. М., 1928; Рабоче-Крестьянская Красная Армия: сайт. 1999-2012. URL: http://www.rkka.ru/.
From the Presidential library materials: