KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia has enacted a major security crackdown ahead of annual commemorations on Tuesday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, limiting the use of drones and ride-sharing services in its biggest cities – even jet skis on the canals of St. Petersburg – in the midst of its war of 14 months with Ukraine.
At least 21 Russian cities have for the first time in years canceled May 9 military parades – a staple of Victory Day celebrations across Russia – Russian media said.
Regional officials blamed unspecified “security issues” or vaguely referred to “the current situation” for the restrictions and cancellations. It was unclear whether their decisions were made in coordination with the Kremlin.
Last week, Russia – which did not witness the carnage suffered by Ukraine during the invasion – was rocked by ambiguous official reports that two Ukrainian drones flew into the heart of Moscow under cover of darkness and reached the Kremlin before being shot down.
Media and local officials have blamed the Ukrainian military for other sporadic drone attacks, particularly targeting oil depots near the two countries’ border. kyiv officials decline to comment on the allegations.
Fears of a possible Ukrainian attack seemed real, although parades will be held in Russia’s biggest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. But the use of drones was banned in both cities before VE Day.
In St. Petersburg, often dubbed the “Venice of the North” for its network of rivers and canals, the use of jet skis in parts of the city is banned until Wednesday. In the Russian capital, car-sharing services have been temporarily banned from the city center – drivers will not be able to start or end their journeys there – amid preparations for the traditional Red Square parade.
Initially, only one foreign leader was to attend the Moscow parade this year – Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov, who arrived on Monday and met Putin for talks. It was one more foreign guest than last year, when no leader visited amid Putin’s wide diplomatic isolation during the war. The Kremlin said at the time that it did not invite any because it was not a “round anniversary”.
But on Monday, officials said Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon would join Putin and Zhaparov in the festivities, alongside Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Kazakhstan’s leader Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Late Monday, Belarusian media said the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, had arrived in Moscow to watch the parade. Its presence is important because Russia bases troops and weapons used in Ukraine in Belarus, and Putin said in March that tactical nuclear weapons would be placed there.
Pashinyan and Tokayev were surprising picks for the guest list, as they have diverged from Putin’s line in the past. Kazakhstan and Armenia, although allies of Russia, have not publicly supported the war in Ukraine. In fact, Tokayev spoke on the phone several times with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the invasion.
Tokayev also told Putin last summer that Kazakhstan would not recognize the Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.
Armenia is a member of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, but Pashinyan snubbed Moscow earlier this year by refusing to host the alliance’s military drills.
May 9 is normally a public holiday in Ukraine too, but not this year, due to the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday he had sent a bill to parliament proposing a Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism in World War II on May 8 and a Europe Day on May 9, further distancing Kiev from Moscow.
Zelenskyy equated Russia’s goals in Ukraine with those of the Nazis. “Unfortunately, the evil has returned,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram. “Although this is now another aggressor, the goal is the same: enslavement or destruction.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is due to travel to Kyiv on Tuesday to mark Europe Day with Zelenskyy.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian air defenses shot down 35 Iranian-made drones over Kiev in Russia’s latest night assault, as attacks across Ukraine by Kremlin forces killed four civilians, it said. officials on Monday.
Five people in the capital were injured by falling drone debris, according to Serhii Popko, head of Kyiv city military administration. Air raid alarms sounded for more than three hours overnight.
Wreckage from a drone hit a two-storey building in the Svyatoshynskyi district, west of Kyiv, while other wreckage hit a car parked nearby, setting it on fire, the mayor said from Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, in a Telegram article.
Russia has faced economic sanctions and limits on its supply chains due to its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has regularly turned to Iranian Shahed drones to increase its firepower.
The Russian bombardment of 127 targets in northern, southern and eastern Ukraine killed three civilians, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said. Russian long-range bombers launched up to eight cruise missiles in the Odessa region of southern Ukraine, authorities said. One person was killed and three others were injured.
Some of the Soviet-era cruise missiles fired at the Odessa region self-destructed or fell into the sea before reaching their targets, according to Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ihnat.
Meanwhile, Russian-installed authorities have started evacuating residents of Tokmak, a town on the frontline of the southern Zaporizhzhia region, to the Black Sea coast, the Ukrainian General Staff said. .
Those working for Kremlin-appointed local authorities, along with children and educators, are being moved to Berdyansk, a Russian-occupied seaside town about 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the southeast, he said. noted.
On Friday, the Russian-appointed governor of the partially occupied region of Zaporizhzhia ordered the evacuation of civilians from 18 settlements there, including Enerhodar, which adjoins the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Speculation has swirled for months about the timing and direction of Ukraine’s planned spring offensive, with some analysts saying Kiev may attempt to strike south into Zaporizhzhia in order to split Russian forces and sever the land link from Moscow with the occupied Crimean peninsula.
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