Russia’s Victory Day takes on new significance for Putin this year: NPR

Tanks roll during a rehearsal on Thursday for the May 9, Victory Day military parade, which will take place on Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Dmitri Lovetsky/AP


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Tanks roll during a rehearsal on Thursday for the May 9, Victory Day military parade, which will take place on Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

MOSCOW – Russians will celebrate Victory Day on Monday, an annual event to mark Nazi Germany’s defeat by the Soviet Union in World War II, which has gained additional intrigue and importation this year due to Russia’s struggle in Ukraine .

Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, the May 9 event has grown in scope and political prominence, featuring a Soviet-style military parade in Moscow’s Red Square with a presidential address.

This year’s Victory Day comes amid widespread speculation, both in Russia and in the West, that Putin is eager to declare at least a symbolic victory in Ukraine. A big question is whether – and how – Putin could try to excite the Russians and fuse Soviet glory and sacrifice with another call to fight what he believes to be 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… struggled to achieve his goals† With few outright victories to point to, some Russians fear that Putin may instead seize the opportunity to announce national mobilization and formally declare war not only against Ukraine, but perhaps against other countries in the West. .

Russia has made an attempt to Mariupol . to take

Clues to the Kremlin’s quest for victory could be found in a visit last week by a senior official, Sergei Kiriyenko, to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. A pocket of Ukrainian resistance stays in the local steel millbut Putin has formally announced Russian control of Mariupol, causing a tidal wave of Russian state media to pour into the city.

Russian naval cadets take part in a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Sevastopol, Crimea, on May 5. The parade will take place there on May 9 to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Soviet Union in World War II.

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Russian naval cadets take part in a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Sevastopol, Crimea, on May 5. The parade will take place there on May 9 to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Soviet Union in World War II.

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In front of cameras, Kiriyenko, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, a statue unveiled featuring an image of an elderly Ukrainian woman turned into a symbol of Ukrainian support for Russian troops by Russian state media. The woman, named Babushka Anya, was apparently filmed by Ukrainian soldiers greeting them with a Soviet banner, wrongly assuming they were Russians. In the video, she refuses the food the troops offer her after realizing they are Ukrainian.

She is “a living symbol of the continuity of generations and of the ongoing struggle against Nazism and fascism,” Kiriyenko announced, echoing Putin’s claims that Russian troops are in Ukraine to “denazify” the country. “She has become the grandmother of all Donbas and a grandmother of all Russia.”

Kiriyenko’s presence in Mariupol came amid the Russian news reports that the Kremlin adviser — who normally oversees domestic politics — has been given the task of integrating Ukrainian countries politically if they fall into the hands of Russian troops.

Putin recognized the independence of Ukraine’s separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the hours before Russia decided to send troops to Ukraine in February. At the time, Putin justified the move as a humanitarian mission defending Russian-speakers in the area. Western intelligence agencies say the Kremlin may now seek annexation of the territories as a possible prize.

People walk through a tunnel of stars set up in central Moscow on Thursday as a decoration for Russia’s Victory Day. Russia holds an annual military parade in Red Square on May 9.

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People walk through a tunnel of stars set up in central Moscow on Thursday as a decoration for Russia’s Victory Day. Russia holds an annual military parade in Red Square on May 9.

Alexander Neemov/AFP via Getty Images

The Kremlin has warned of a bigger conflict

Russia’s recent focus on those Ukrainian regions in the eastern Donbas area has slowed down as US and European allies ramp up the flow of arms and other aid to Ukraine.

The Russian military has targeted those shipments, as the Kremlin has done escalated warnings and criticismarguing that the military aid risks a military confrontation between Russia and the NATO powers.

To underline this message, Russia conducted exercises on Wednesday simulate a tactical nuclear attack in the western exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders the European Union.

Putin previously warned against “lightning fastretaliation if the West intervenes directly in the Ukraine conflict — the latest in a pattern of amplified rhetoric that has fueled theories that Putin is trying to reach a public consensus for a wider war. Asked if Putin will formally end war on Ukraine on May 9. would declare a Kremlin spokesperson called the idea “nonsense.”

Parade preparations are underway in Moscow

In recent days, Russian armed forces have rehearsed for a parade in Red Square in what has become a revival of Putin-era Soviet military traditions.

Every May 9, the Russians celebrate the end, in 1945, of what they call the Great Patriotic War, in which more than 20 million Soviet citizens at home and abroad died. Celebrations and parades take place in dozens of Russian cities.

Based on statements by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, it appears that Moscow’s military display on Monday may be scaled down from those in previous years to depict the battle in Ukraine. Still, Shoigu said the parade would include 11,000 soldiers and show off 77 planes and 131 vehicles, including Russia’s newest rocket launchers.

The Russian Air Force has promised to conduct celebratory flights in Z formations – the letter used to mark the Russian military in Ukraine. The letter Z has also emerged as a controversial symbol of both support for Russian troops and intimidation of dissenting voices at home.

A Soviet-era plane known as the Flying Kremlin will also make an appearance. It is an airborne presidential command center used in a nuclear attack on Russia.

Meanwhile, downstairs, there will be Putin and his speech – with the president’s staunchest supporters convinced their leader will find the right words.

“Victory will come, but not before we have defeated all the Nazis in Ukraine,” said Andrei, 60, a Red Square tour guide who was concerned about giving his full name to a Western journalist.

“Putin is a smart man,” he added, as fighter jets flew overhead in parade formation. “He won’t announce anything without a real victory.”

Charles Maynes reported from Moscow; Alina Selyukh contributed to this story from Washington, DC

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