President Vladimir Putin declared that all of Russia is united in support of its troops, claiming they face a “real war” intended to “destroy” their country during his annual Victory Day speech in Moscow’s Red Square on Tuesday.
Celebrated on May 9 in Russia, Victory Day is the country’s yearly commemoration to honor the Soviet troops who defeated the forces of Nazi Germany during World War II. The ceremonies and military parade were notably pared back relative to previous years, however, as Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds into its fifteenth month.
“Today, our civilization is at a crucial turning point. A real war is being waged against our country again but we have countered international terrorism and will defend the people of Donbass and safeguard our security,” Putin said.
The Russian leader declaimed that Moscow seeks peace and stability, while railing against American exceptionalism and the “Western globalist elites.” He said these forces pit countries against one another with coup plots and proxy conflicts, such as the 2014 US-backed coup in Kiev and Ukraine’s subsequent war on Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern Donbass region. These actions preceded Putin’s invasion, and the president has repeatedly cited the need to “defend the people” of the Donbass as a justification for his “special military operation.”
“For us, for Russia, there are no unfriendly or hostile nations either in the west or in the east. Just like the vast majority of people on the planet, we want to see a peaceful, free and stable future,” Putin claimed.
“[Russians] believe that any ideology of superiority is abhorrent, criminal and deadly by its nature. However, the Western globalist elites keep speaking about their exceptionalism, pit nations against each other and split societies, provoke bloody conflicts and coups, sow hatred, Russophobia, aggressive nationalism, destroy family and traditional values which make us human,” he continued. “They do all that so as to keep dictating and imposing their will, their rights and rules on peoples, which in reality is a system of plundering, violence and suppression.”
The Russian leader went on to claim that the war in Ukraine is a defensive action against a collective West which seeks to subvert and balkanize Russia, ultimately hoping to wipe the country off the map. “Their goal – and there is nothing new about it – is to break apart and destroy our country, to make null and void the outcomes of World War II, to completely break down the system of global security and international law, to choke off any sovereign centers of development,” he said.
Putin blamed the same forces for provoking the disaster in Ukraine and NATO’s ongoing proxy war against Russia, pointing to the massive casualties resulting from callous and “self-serving” Western policies. “Boundless ambition, arrogance and impunity inevitably lead to tragedies. This is the reason for the catastrophe the Ukrainian people are going through. They have become hostage to the coup d’état and the resulting criminal regime of its Western masters, collateral damage in the implementation of their cruel and self-serving plans,” he asserted.
Putin also hailed the emergence of the new “multipolar world,” saying that an “unstoppable movement is gaining momentum” towards “a world based on the principles of trust and indivisible security, of equal opportunities for a genuine and free development of all nations and peoples.”
He praised the Russian forces fighting in Ukraine as “heroes,” saying they are up against a West which has “forgotten what the Nazis’ insane claims of global dominance led to. They forgot who destroyed that monstrous, total evil, who stood up for their native land and did not spare their lives to liberate the peoples of Europe.”
Tuesday’s Victory Day ceremony and military parade were significantly smaller compared to previous years, likely due to concerns over a recent uptick in drone strikes on Russian territory – including one which targeted the Kremlin last week. Moscow claimed the strike was a failed assassination attempt against Putin, pinning blame on Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also accused the United States of involvement in the attack, saying “[Russia knows] very well that the decisions to carry out such actions, such terrorist attacks, are made not in Kiev. Rather, it is precisely in Washington.”
While some attendees complained about the scaled-down ceremony – namely the lack of tanks – the Kremlin said the parade’s motorized column was headed up by the WW2-era “legendary ‘Victory tank’ T-34–85” and featured a wide array of military hardware. That included Tigr-M and BTR-82A armored personnel carriers, Bumerang fighting vehicles, Iskander-M tactical missile systems, S-400 air defense platforms and Yars mobile missile systems, according to the Kremlin. It added that “The newest Spartak and 3-STS Akhmat armored vehicles were presented at the parade for the first time.”
The marching column consisted of 30 ceremonial regiments with more than 8,000 troops, including 530 personnel taking part in Russia’s so-called “special military operation.” According to the AP, this is the lowest such turnout since 2008. There was reportedly no fly-over of military jets and the ceremony lasted less than one hour.
Several cities also scrapped their traditional ‘Immortal Regiment’ processions, in which crowds hold up pictures of relatives who fought or died during the war against Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in the conflict, giving Victory Day deep symbolic meaning in Russia. According to local media reports, 24 different cities also canceled plans for their own military parades. Regional officials cited by the AP blamed “security concerns” and the “current situation” as the reason for the cancellations.
Alongside Putin on the stand during his speech were the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, and the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev.