Russian cruise missiles exploded in the air above Kiev as Vladimir Putin marked the anniversary of victory over the Nazis with another attack on Ukraine.
Speaking at a significantly scaled-down military parade in Moscow’s Red Square to celebrate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, the Russian president said the “survival of the Russian people” depended on the war in Ukraine, as he was using his VE Day speech to defend his invasion of the country.
“Today, civilization is again at a turning point. A real war has been unleashed against us again,” Putin said in an angry speech in which he drew false parallels between today’s fight against Ukraine’s “criminal regime” and the defeat of the Nazi Germany in 1945.
“We are proud of the participants in the special military operation. The future of our people depends on you,” he said, standing on the podium in Red Square.
Putin also blamed the West for “destroying traditional values” and propagating a “system of theft and violence”.
“The goal of our enemies, and there is nothing new here, is to bring about the disintegration and destruction of our country,” the president said, adopting a largely familiar tone and describing the war in Ukraine as a defensive battle unleashed against Russia.
“Here is our victory! exclaimed the Russian president before leaving the podium.
Victory Day, when Russians celebrate the end of what they call the “Great Patriotic War” against Nazi Germany in 1945, became the centerpiece of Putin’s vision of Russian identity during his 23 years in office.
Security concerns have cast a shadow over this year’s Victory Day celebrations across Russia after two drones attacked the Kremlin last week. More than 20 cities across the country had abandoned their parades, including those several thousand miles from the front lines.
The traditional flyover of Moscow and St Petersburg was canceled on Monday and the parade in the Russian capital was shorter than in previous years.
Observers also noticed that this year’s parade featured far less heavy modern equipment than in previous years – and only one Soviet-era tank – a clear sign that the war in Ukraine has taken a heavy toll on the country’s army.
“As I expected, the Kremlin has tried to hide the severe damage done to the military, but it’s too much to hide,” said Dara Massicot, senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation think tank.
More than 500 Russian soldiers who fought in Ukraine were present at the parade, according to state media.
The Russian president received a belated public relations boost on Monday when the heads of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Armenia – three post-Soviet countries that Moscow is struggling to keep in its orbit – announced that they would attend the military parade in Red Square alongside the leaders of Tajikistan. and Turkmenistan.
One of Putin’s main allies during the war in Ukraine, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, was also present but skipped lunch due to health issues. Lukashenko looked tired and had a bandage on his right hand.
All foreign leaders stayed away from last year’s Victory Day parade, which took place two months after the invasion began.