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Putin defends Ukraine war in Victory Day speech

May 9, 2022

The war in Ukraine overshadows Moscow's annual celebration of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Following the huge military parade, the Russian president has claimed Russia is defending the "Motherland" in Donbas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on the screen as he delivers a speech during 77th anniversary of the Victory Day
Russian President Vladimir Putin drew parallels between the Red Army's fight against Nazi troops and the Russian forces' action in UkraineImage: Sefa Karacan/AA/picture alliance

Russia marked the 77th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany on Monday.

President Vladimir Putin started a major speech to the Victory Day parade by saying soldiers were fighting for Russian security once again.

Around 11,000 soldiers participated in the parade on Moscow's Red Square.

Military parades also took place in Vladivostok and Novosibirsk. 

People holding photographs of their relatives who fought against Nazi Germany in WWII take part in an Immortal Regiment procession
People holding photographs of their relatives who fought against Nazi Germany in WWII take part in an Immortal Regiment procession in VladivostokImage: Yuri Smityuk/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

What did Putin say in Victory Day speech?

His address centered on the ongoing war in Ukraine, which began following Russia's invasion on February 24.

He said the invasion was the "only right decision" with a false claim that the West was "preparing for invasion of Russia."

"NATO was creating tensions at the borders. They did not want to listen to Russia, they had other plans," said Putin.

He claimed Russia was fighting for "the Motherland" in Donbas, "so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II."

Putin also promised support for the families of fallen soldiers. "The death of every soldier and officer is painful for us," he said. "The state will do everything to take care of these families."

Russian service members take part in a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square
Russian service members take part in a military parade on Victory Day in Red SquareImage: Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

The analysis of Putin's claims

There had been speculation that Putin would announce an escalation of military action. However, there was no mention of a general or partial mobilization of soldiers.

"Putin tried to delegitimize Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government by connecting them to some sort of Nazi past," said DW Correspondent Aaron Tilton. "He was saying this is about Russia and Russian security, and blamed Ukrainians and the West for attacking Russia."

"It is a reversal of the actual situation on the ground. We know there wasn't any western aggression directed towards the Russian Federation. Russia was the country that invaded first, Russia was the country that started bombing and shooting. But because Vladimir Putin's long-term goal is to get his people ready for a longer conflict, he had to give them something to rally around," said Tilton. 

The Kremlin refers to the invasion of Ukraine not as a war, but as a "special military operation."

Victory Day in Russia: What was the most important message from Putin's speech?

What is Victory Day in Russia?

In Russia, "Victory Day," as it is referred to in the post-Soviet era, was for decades a day of sorrowful remembrance. The Soviet Union lost millions of its citizens during World War II, and May 9 was a day to reflect upon that loss.

Yet, that has changed over the past several years. Increasingly, Putin has used the day to serve his own domestic purposes. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday Russia had "forgotten everything that was important to the victors of World War II."

"Evil has returned, in a different uniform, under different slogans, but for the same purpose," he warned.

Unlike in previous years, this time no foreign head of state will be a guest at the parade.

Western Allies celebrate Germany's capitulation on May 8. The formal surrender in 1945 was intentionally timed to take place late on May 8 west of Moscow and at the stroke of midnight in Russia, granting the then-Soviet Union its own day of commemoration.

Russian service members take part in a military parade on Victory Day
Putin paid tribute to the Russian armed forces' deployment in Ukraine, during the military parade in MoscowImage: Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

What is the latest in Ukraine?

The parade comes one day after Ukrainian officials said a Russian airstrike killed 60 people sheltering in a school.

Fighting continues on multiple fronts, but Russia is closest to victory in the port city of Mariupol. The last remaining Ukrainian fighters making a last stand in a steel mill have rejected deadlines to lay down their arms.

Full control of Mariupol would allow Moscow to create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and eastern regions run by pro-Russian separatists. Some have speculated that Putin is seeking to achieve that goal in time for Victory Day.

tg/rt  (dpa, AFP, AP)