MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russians celebrate Victory Day on Monday, an annual event commemorating the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two that has increased intrigue and import this year over Russia’s fighting in Ukraine.
Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, the May 9 event has grown in scale and political importance, with a Soviet-style military parade on Red Square in Moscow including a presidential address.
Victory Day this year comes amid widespread speculation, both in Russia and in the West, that Putin is eager to declare at least a symbolic victory in Ukraine. One big question is whether – or how – Putin might try to motivate Russians and incorporate former Soviet glory and sacrifice with a new call to fight what he claims is a “neo-Nazi” regime in Ukraine.
The Kremlin insists that what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine is going “according to plan”. Two months later, Western security officials say Moscow has done so Strive to reach his goals. With few outright victories to note, some Russians fear that Putin will instead seize the opportunity to declare national mobilization and formally declare war, not only against Ukraine but perhaps also other countries in the West.
Russia rushed dash to seize Mariupol
Clues to the Kremlin’s search for the optics of victory may lie in a visit last week by a senior official, Sergei Kirienko, to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Ukrainian pocket of resistance Still inside the local steel millBut Putin did officially announced Russian control of Mariupol, which led to an influx of Russian state media into the city.
In front of the cameras, Kirienko, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Unveiled a statue A depiction of an elderly Ukrainian woman turned into a symbol of Ukrainian support for Russian forces by Russian state media. It was the woman, whose name is Babushka Anya Apparently photographed by Ukrainian soldiers while receiving them With a Soviet banner, mistakenly believing they were Russians. In the video, she refuses the food offered to her by the soldiers after realizing that they are Ukrainians.
Kirienko declared her “a living symbol of the continuity of generations and of the ongoing struggle against Nazism and fascism,” echoing Putin’s claims that Russian forces are in Ukraine to “destroy” the country. “She has become the grandmother of all Donbass and the grandmother of the whole of Russia.”
Kirienko’s presence came in Mariupol, central Russia newscast That the Kremlin adviser – who usually oversees domestic politics – has been tasked with the political integration of Ukrainian lands when they fall into the hands of Russian forces.
Putin admitted independence In the Ukrainian separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the hours leading up to Russia’s decision to send troops to Ukraine in February. At the time, Putin justified the move as a humanitarian mission to defend Russian-speaking people in the region. Western intelligence services say the Kremlin may now seek to annex the territories as a possible prize.
Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images
The Kremlin has warned of the possibility of a wider conflict
Russia’s focus on those Ukrainian areas of eastern Donbass has recently slowed as American and European allies boost the flow of arms and other support to Ukraine.
The Russian military targeted those shipments as well as the Kremlin Escalate warnings and criticismarguing that military aid risks a military confrontation between Russia and NATO powers.
And in confirmation of this message, Russia conducted, on Wednesday, exercises Tactical nuclear strike simulator In its western stronghold of Kaliningrad, bordering the European Union.
Putin had previously warned oflightning fastRetaliation if the West intervenes directly in the Ukraine conflict – the latest in a pattern of inflated rhetoric that has fueled theories that Putin is seeking to build a general consensus for a broader war. Asked if Putin would formally declare war on Ukraine on May 9, a Kremlin spokesman He called the idea “bullshit.”
Preparations for the show are underway in Moscow
In recent days, the Russian armed forces have been rehearsing a military parade on Red Square in what has become a revival of Putin’s Soviet military tradition.
Every year on May 9, Russians celebrate the end of what they call the Great Patriotic War in 1945, in which more than 20 million Soviet citizens were killed at home and abroad. Celebrations and parades are held in dozens of Russian cities.
It appears that Moscow’s military parade on Monday may be scaled back from previous years to reflect the fighting in Ukraine, based on comments by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. However, Shoigu said the parade will include 11,000 soldiers and will boast 77 aircraft and 131 vehicles, including the latest Russian missile launchers.
The Russian Air Force has promised to carry out ceremonial rounds in Z formations – the message used to commemorate the Russian Army in Ukraine. The letter Z has also emerged as a controversial symbol of support for Russian forces and intimidation of dissenting voices at home.
A Soviet-era aircraft known as the Flying Kremlin will also appear. It is a presidential airborne command center for use in the event of a nuclear attack on Russia.
Meanwhile, below, there will be Putin and his speech – with the president’s loyal supporters making sure their leader will find the right words.
“Victory will come, but not until we have defeated all the Nazis in Ukraine,” said Andrei, 60, a tour guide on Red Square who was worried about revealing his full name to a Western journalist.
“Putin is a smart man,” he added, as fighter jets hovered in parade formations over the region. Nothing will be announced without a real victory.
Charles Maines reported from Moscow; This story was contributed by Alina Selyukh from Washington, DC
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