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This year, the world had its eyes and ears tuned to Moscow for one of the most patriotic days on the Russian calendar – Victory Day. But, 77 years after the day was first observed to commemorate the defeat of evil, there was little to cheer for Russians or the rest of the world.
Victory Day, observed on May 9th, marks the role played by Soviet Union soldiers in defeating the Nazis at the end of World War II. It is estimated that around 27 million Russian soldiers and civilians (most of any one country) sacrificed their lives to liberate Europe from the clutches of the Nazi regime.
It was a sad day of reflection and remembrance in the post-Soviet era. Over the decades, Victory Day has been marked with pompous military parades and a national address, often with a foreign diplomatic guest in attendance.
With the Russian war on Ukraine entering its third month, many hoped that the Russian President's speech would give an inkling of his plans or insight into his goals. His troops invaded Ukraine a day after Defender of the Fatherland Day. The Russian annexation of Crimea back in 2014 commenced along the same timeline. There was much speculation that the President would want to declare his "special military operation" over Ukraine a success on Victory Day.
President Putin seems to have a particular fondness for such commemorative days. He is adept at weaving the past with the present, justifying today's actions by portraying them as correcting the wrongs of the past and invoking Russian nationalism and the heydays of the republic, which he seems to perceive as his "lot" to restore.
As per his MO, the President drew parallels between now and then but gave little away regarding his plans for the current war. In his Victory Day speech, he claimed that "as in the past, you are fighting for our people in Donbass, for the security of our Motherland, for Russia."
The Russian President tried to justify his invasion of sovereign Ukraine, claiming that he had urged the West to conduct dialogue to find "meaningful and compromising solutions." He alleged that "NATO countries did not want to heed us, which means they had totally different plans."
He stated, "Another punitive operation in Donbass, an invasion of our historic lands, including Crimea, was openly in the making. Kiev declared that it could attain nuclear weapons. The NATO bloc launched an active military build-up on the territories adjacent to us."
President Putin declared that an "absolutely unacceptable threat" was "steadily being created right on our borders." He claimed that "a clash with neo-Nazis and Banderites backed by the United States and their minions was unavoidable." He again drew parallels between the Second World War and his present invasion of Ukraine.
He emphatically stated that his actions were "forced, timely, and the only correct decision. A decision by a sovereign, strong and independent country." Vastly exaggerating and distorting ground realities, the Russian President claimed that "the West seems to be set to cancel these (Russia's) millennia-old values." He also blamed the West for "escalating Russophobia, praising traitors" and such (perceived) grievances that are essentially the fallout of the Kremlin's actions and policies.
Leaders, diplomats, and others quickly pointed out that many President Putin's claims were far from accurate. NATO denied that it had any plans to attack Russia. Nor did Ukraine plan to attack Crimea. There is no evidence suggesting that Ukraine proactively sought to acquire nuclear weapons. The "neo-Nazi" takeover of Ukraine is a refrain that the Kremlin has been pushing as part of its pro-war propaganda since the start of the invasion.
As the Ukrainian war drags on without a clear victor, and civilians and soldiers continue to lose their lives fighting for freedom, President Putin's claims of "defending the Motherland," especially on Victory Day, ring hollow.
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