Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told his country’s traditional Victory Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square that the West’s “untamed ambitions, arrogance and impunity” are driving “a real war” against Russia, while the Kremlin’s forces fired another cruise missile barrage at Ukraine.
“Today civilization is once again at a decisive turning point,” Putin said at the annual commemorations celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. “A real war has been unleashed against our Motherland.”
Putin’s remarks came just hours after the Kremlin’s forces fired its latest barrage of cruise missiles at Ukraine, which Russia invaded more than 14 months ago in what it officially refers to as a “special military operation.”
Ukrainian authorities said air defenses destroyed 23 of the 25 missiles that were launched. The air force said in a Telegram post that eight Kalibr cruise missiles were fired from carriers in the Black Sea toward the east and 17 from strategic aircraft.
Putin has repeatedly framed the war in Ukraine as a proxy conflict with the West. The Kremlin’s official narrative of the war depicts an existential battle with the West, which in Moscow’s view is merely using Ukraine as a tool to destroy Russia, re-write its history and crush its traditional values. That version of events has dominated Russian state media coverage of the war.
Putin praised soldiers taking part in the war in Ukraine and urged Russians to stand together.
“Our heroic ancestors proved that there is nothing stronger, more powerful and more reliable than our unity. There is nothing in the world stronger than our love for the motherland,” Putin said.
He blasted “Western globalist elites” that “harp about their exclusivity, pit people against each other, divide society and provoke bloody conflicts and coups, sow hatred, Russophobia.”
But there were signs the Ukraine war is taking a toll on Russia. Military analysts say the Russian military has struggled with ammunition supplies, troop morale and poor leadership and organization. The conflict largely became a war of attrition over the winter after Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022 came up short.
The parade this year appeared shorter and much more pared-back than usual. Only some 8,000 troops marched in Red Square this year — the lowest number since 2008. Even the parade in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, featured some 13,000 soldiers, and last year, 11,000 troops took part.
Unlike in previous years, there was no fly-over of military jets, and less equipment was on show in the parade. The event, unusually, lasted less than an hour.
Russia also enacted a major security clampdown for the commemorations. Authorities curbed the use of drones and ride-sharing services in Moscow and even jet skis on the canals of St. Petersburg.
Russian media counted 24 Russian cities that canceled May 9 military parades — the staple of celebrations across Russia — for the first time in years. Regional officials blamed unspecified “security concerns” or vaguely referred to “the current situation” for the restrictions and cancellations. It wasn’t clear whether their decisions were taken in coordination with the Kremlin.
Last week, Russia was alarmed by two Ukrainian drones that in murky circumstances reportedly flew into the heart of Moscow under the cover of darkness and reached the Kremlin before being shot down. Other drones said to be fired by Ukraine have also hit Russian oil depots near the border.
The Immortal Regiment processions, in which crowds take to the streets holding portraits of relatives who died or served in World War II — another pillar of the holiday — have also been canceled in multiple cities. Some speculated, that the reason for this was not security but the fact that Russians might bring portraits of relatives who died in Ukraine to those processions, illustrating the scale of Russia’s losses in the drawn-out conflict.
The Red Square guest list was also light amid Putin’s broad diplomatic isolation over the war. Initially, only one foreign leader was expected to attend this year’s parade — Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov. That was one more foreign guest than last year, when no leaders went.
At the last minute on Monday, officials announced that the leaders of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were heading to Moscow as well.
The cruise missiles directed at Ukraine were launched hours before European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union’s executive branch, arrived in Kyiv.
Ukraine is keen to join the European Union, but membership has many requirements and is still a long way off. Ukraine is also hoping to join NATO, after moving close to the Western military alliance during the war with Russia.
In the latest help from a NATO member, the U.S. was expected to announce Tuesday that it will provide $1.2 billion more in long-term military aid to Ukraine to further bolster its air defenses.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine