President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russians were united in a “sacred” fight with the West over Ukraine that would end in victory, and accused the United States and its allies of forgetting the Soviet triumph over the Nazis in World War Two.
Putin has repeatedly likened the war in Ukraine – which he casts as a defensive move against a West which wants to carve up Russia – to the challenge Moscow faced when Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
“The decisive battles for the fate of our Motherland have always become patriotic, all-national and sacred,” the 70-year-old president told veterans and soldiers assembled on Red Square for the annual Victory Day parade.
“A real war has again been unleashed against our homeland,” he said.
Putin hailed Russian forces in Ukraine as heroes who were fighting for the country’s future against a West which, he said, had forgotten the decisive role played by the Soviet Union in defeating Nazi Germany.
“The whole country rallied to support our heroes. Everyone is ready to help, praying for you,” he said of those taking part in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation”.
Putin cheered for “Russia, for our valiant Armed Forces, for victory!”
Cheers rang out across Red Square, with a gun salute and the Russian national anthem, though with a much slimmed down show of military hardware – and no aviation. Only one tank took part.
The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in World War Two, including many millions in Ukraine, but eventually pushed Nazi forces back to Berlin, where Hitler committed suicide and the red Soviet Victory Banner was raised over the Reichstag in 1945.
Kyiv and its allies accuse Putin of waging an unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine to seize land. They deny Putin’s claim that the expansion of the NATO alliance to Russia’s borders poses a threat to its security or justifies Moscow’s invasion.
As many as 354,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured in the Ukraine war, which is now in its 15th month and could well grind on well beyond 2023, according to a trove of purported U.S. intelligence documents posted online.
No Western leaders attended Tuesday’s parade, which was much reduced in scale and came less than a week after Russia said Ukraine had attacked the Kremlin with two drones in an attempt to kill Putin. Kyiv denied any involvement.
Putin said “Western globalist elites” were sowing Russophobia and aggressive nationalism, while the Ukrainian people had become “hostages to a state coup” and to the ambitions of the West.
Putin said the memory of World War Two was sacred and paid tribute to those who fought against Nazis, including the armies of the United States and Britain, and also to China’s fight against the Japanese.
Along with the 1812 defeat of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, the crushing of Nazi Germany is Russia’s most revered military triumph, though both catastrophic invasions from the west left Russia deeply sensitive about its Western borders.
“We want to see a peaceful, free and stable future,” Putin said, adding that memorials to Soviet soldiers were being destroyed in a number of countries.
“We have repulsed international terrorism, we will protect the inhabitants of Donbas (in eastern Ukraine), we will ensure our security,” said Putin, who was joined in Red Square by leaders of several ex-Soviet republics.
He did not address the challenges facing Russia as its forces prepare for an expected major counter-offensive by Ukraine, or outline any path to victory.