Russian President Vladimir Putin devoted much of his annual Victory Day speech to Ukraine, painting Russia’s campaign as this generation’s link to the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany and describing it as forced by actions of the U.S. and NATO.
Putin did not claim any victories, however, nor did he signal major military or policy shifts in what the Kremlin continues to call its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
In the third month of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine, Putin has few outright victories to claim, prompting earlier speculation — both in Russia and abroad — that he might use the speech to launch national mobilization and formally declare war against not only Ukraine but possibly other countries in the West.
Instead, addressing phalanxes of troops filling Moscow’s Red Square, Putin repeated his claims that Western nations and Ukraine had been planning their own attacks, perhaps on Russia’s “historical lands,” including Crimea. He said Kyiv considered acquiring nuclear weapons and had been building up its military with NATO’s support.
“A threat absolutely unacceptable to us was being systemically created,” Putin said, describing danger as “mounting by the day” and adding: “Russia gave a preemptive rebuff to aggression. This decision was forced, timely and the only correct one — a decision by a sovereign, strong and independent country.”
Putin went on to address the troops and militia members in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s military has intensified its focus in recent weeks. He said they were fighting for the future of the motherland and to preserve the lessons of World War II, that “there’s no place in the world for executioners, punishers and Nazis.”
The Kremlin has framed its invasion of Ukraine as a fight to “de-nazify” the country — a thread that Putin continued in his Victory Day address, claiming Russia’s clash with Ukraine’s neo-Nazis and Nazi sympathizers had been “inevitable.”
“Today you are defending what the fathers and grandfathers, great-grandfathers fought for,” Putin said. “For them, the highest meaning of life was always the well-being and security of the homeland. And for us, their heirs, the devotion to the motherland is the main value, a pillar of strength for Russia’s independence.”
In a rare acknowledgment of the losses suffered by Russian forces in Ukraine, Putin said each soldier’s death was “our shared grief,” pledging support for children and families of those who died or were injured.
May 9 has long been one of the most venerated holidays in Russia, marking the end, in 1945, of what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, in which more than 20 million Soviet citizens died at home and abroad.
Under Putin, the event has grown in scale and political prominence, flexing the country’s military power with a Soviet-style parade on Red Square and smaller versions in many cities and towns. Monday’s main parade featured thousands of soldiers and dozens of military vehicles, though the Kremlin canceled an aircraft flyover, citing weather conditions.