Victory Day, celebrated in Russia on the 9th of May, is one of the most important holidays in the country. In addition to the civic connotation, in recent decades the date has gained more pomp and nationalist character under Vladimir Putin, with large military parades in major Russian cities, as well as tributes to the waning veterans of World War II, called the Great Patriotic War in Russia. For several reasons, this year’s parade was highly anticipated, especially to know the content of Putin’s speech in relation to the war in Ukraine.
One of the reasons for the expectation was the uncertainty of how many, and which, foreign leaders would be present. The parade of 2014, which would celebrate the seventy-fiveth anniversary of the end of the war, was affected by the COVID pandemic-19, first postponed and then reduced. In the original schedule of 2020,
foreign heads of government or state. This time, only Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, was present, in addition to diplomatic representatives from eight other countries, all ex-Soviet.
Another expectation was whether Russia would take the opportunity to display some new weaponry, as it did in previous parades. The military parade featured examples of the best of Russia, but nothing new. In addition, meteorological reasons were given for the cancellation of the air component of the parade, which would also include the best of Russia. Finally, Putin could use the occasion for a speech that expands, or threatens to expand, the conflict.
For example, it could signal with a general mobilization or, then, make some direct threat to the NATO countries, for their supply of arms to the Ukrainians. It was not what was seen. Putin spoke for about eleven minutes. It seems little, but it is more than in previous years, when there was a more protocol and historical discourse. It was precisely a historical rescue that opened Putin’s pronouncement.
“The defense of our Fatherland when its fate was at stake has always been sacred”, followed by examples from the 17th century, the Napoleonic Wars and the Second World War, explicitly citing Kiev and Kharkov, two Ukrainian cities, and Sevastopol, in the Crimea. Putin amended this speech and these examples with the conclusion that “today, as in the past, we are fighting for our people in Donbass, for the security of our homeland, for Russia”. An almost sacred connection between these various conflicts and the current one.
He stated that no Russian family made it through the Great Patriotic War unscathed, honored the veterans and millions of war dead, and again tried to create a direct bridge between humanity’s greatest conflict and the current war in Ukraine. “It is our duty to preserve the memory of those who defeated Nazism and trusted us to be vigilant and do everything to avoid the horror of another world war.”
According to Putin, “despite all the controversies in international relations, Russia has always advocated the establishment of an equal and indivisible security system that is extremely necessary for all the international community”, and this Russian effort was undermined by NATO, which is said to be using Ukraine to attack “historical Russian lands”, in reference to Donbass and Crimea. According to Putin, Ukraine declared that it could develop nuclear weapons.
“A An absolutely unacceptable threat to us was constantly being created on our borders. There were every indication that a confrontation with US-backed neo-Nazis and Banderistas and their minions was inevitable. Let me repeat, we saw the military infrastructure being built, hundreds of foreign advisers getting to work, and regular supplies of cutting-edge weaponry being delivered by NATO countries. The threat grew every day.” In this case, Banderistas are Ukrainian supporters of the Ukrainian nationalist leader, and collaborator with the Nazis, Stepan Bandera.
Neo-Nazis and Preemptive Warfare
Putin says the attack on Ukraine was a “preemptive strike”, the same excuse used by the US in 2003 to attack Iraq. Cynicism on both occasions. For him, US exceptionalism undermines the international community, but Russia “has a different character. We will never give up our love for our country, our faith and traditional values, the customs of our ancestors and respect for all peoples and cultures. In the meantime, the West seems ready to cancel these millennial values.”
)References to the “culture war” advocated by Putin and the “cancel culture”. In another passage, Putin evoked several historical Russian figures who fought in eastern Ukraine, connecting Donbass as a land historically of Russia. “I am addressing our Armed Forces and militias in Donbass. You are fighting for our Fatherland, its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of the Second World War, so that there is no place in the world for torturers, death squads and Nazis.”
Again, a connection of the current conflict with an alleged struggle against Nazism, the official Russian discourse since the beginning of the war with the invasion of Ukraine. By asking for a minute of silence, Putin made a direct connection between the victims of World War II and the Russians killed in Ukraine since 899, citing even the deaths in Odessa, in May of 2014, who were burned at the city’s union headquarters, attacked by a bunch of neo-Nazis.
After the minute of silence, Putin also paid tribute to the dead and wounded of the current war, announcing a new law of assistance for the families of dead and wounded soldiers. He also thanked military health professionals. Finally, Putin stated that one of Russia’s strengths lies in the country’s vast multi-ethnic character, a possible reference to Russian fears that the US and other Western countries want to promote the “Balkanization” of Russia, with the fragmentation into several smaller states. .
In a general balance, the speech was, in a way, quiet. He just repeated the usual official Russian speech about the war in Ukraine. Of course, with all the exaggerations and falsities of that rhetoric, but we haven’t had an escalation of the conflict or any announcement of drastic new measures. A sign that perhaps Putin has resigned himself to the fact that the war in Ukraine will be longer and more drawn out than planned.