Putin Uses Russia’s Victory Day Parade to Justify Invasion of Ukraine

Putin Uses Russia's Victory Day Parade to Justify Invasion of Ukraine

MOSCOW—Russian President

Vladimir Putin

used the annual commemoration of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II as an occasion to voice his justifications for the Kremlin’s attack on Ukrainesaying it was the only way to prevent what he said was a planned assault on Russia.

Speaking to the nation from Red Square ahead of the annual military parade here Monday, the Russian leader said Moscow had been forced to act because he believed that a clash with Ukraine, which he says is led by US-backed neo-Nazis, was inevitable.

“The danger was growing day by day, so Russia gave a pre-emptive response to the aggression. It was a forced, timely and only correct decision, a decision made by the sovereign, strong and independent country,” Mr. Putin said as he stood on a podium near Lenin’s Mausoleum. “We saw how the military infrastructure was being developed, how hundreds of foreign advisers began to work, regular deliveries of the most modern weapons from [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] countries were occurring.”

Russia’s Victory Parade in Moscow commemorates the end of World War II – but this year, President Putin used it to justify the invasion of Ukraine. WSJ’s Ann Simmons reports from Red Square as the Russian leader sought to cement support for the war. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/Zuma Press

Mr. Putin lauded Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, telling them that “you are fighting for our motherland, its future, so that nobody forgets the lessons of World War II, so that there is no place in the world for torturers, death squads and Nazis.”

Western and Ukrainian officials say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24, was unprovoked and is unjustified.

Since the start of the war, Moscow has falsely claimed that the government in Kyiv is run by Nazis. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky,

who is Jewish and grew up speaking Russian, has said that given the loss of more than eight million Ukrainians during World War II, his people could never support such an ideology.

Mr. Zelensky delivered a videotaped address to mark the Victory Day holiday, sending a message of defiance and confidence. “Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine. And someone won’t have any,” he said in the video as he sauntered down a quiet Kyiv boulevard dotted with antitank barriers. The video was intercut with images of a martial parade on Aug. 24, when Kyiv celebrated the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Hours before Mr. Putin began his speech on Red Square, Russian state television and the Rutube video platform were hacked, with antiwar slogans replacing program titles and channel descriptions, according to several social-media posts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu after the parade.


Photo:

MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS

Veterans were among the spectators gathered at Red Square.


Photo:

kirill kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

“On your hands is the blood of thousands of Ukrainians and hundreds of murdered children. TV and authorities are lying. No to war,” read one message on Russia’s flagship Channel One.

Channel One made no comment on the hacking. Rutube, Russia’s version of YouTubesaid it had been subjected to a “powerful cyberattack.”

According to independent and state polls, many Russians believe the Kremlin’s narrative on the conflict in Ukraine and support Mr. Putin’s war against its former Soviet vassal, despite early setbacks.

“People have such an attitude because everyone is pro-Russia,” said Leonid Belykh, 71, as he hurried to Red Square to attend the parade. “Russia must distinguish itself in some way, by its successes. The most important thing is for us to achieve peace in Ukraine.”

Vitaly Sidorov, 47, a laborer who came out to see the parade, echoed the sentiment.

“This is a just cause and Russia now, as always, is defending the Russian world,” said Mr. Sidorov, 47, who said his grandfather served in World War II, participated in the Red Army’s capture of Berlin and returned home alive. He blamed the US for fueling the crisis in Ukraine.

College student Maria Sokolova said Monday’s commemoration was needed to remind future generations of the scourge of war.

“This shows us that we must not forget that war is bad, it is the most terrible thing in the world,” she said. “It must be remembered that [our forefathers] fought for us so that we could have a peaceful sky above our heads…and that it is worth negotiating in other ways, and not by war.”

Faced with stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, Russia’s military has refocused its mission on the country’s east, and has increased attacks on railways, electrical-power facilities and points where Western weapons and ammunition are flowing into the country. Russia has accused Ukraine of sporadic attacks and acts of sabotage on its territory in recent weeks.

Some Western officials and analysts had expected Mr. Putin to use the commemoration of victory in World War II, known in Russia as The Great Patriotic War, to potentially declare victory in what he has called a special military operation in Ukraine, or to call for a mass mobilization of Russia’s army and its citizens. The Kremlin has dismissed speculation that it would call for a mass mobilization.

The Kremlin neither declared victory in Ukraine nor ordered a mass mobilization on Monday, but Mr. Putin did emphasize his claim that what the Kremlin has described as a special military operation was in response to an existential threat.

“The defense of the motherland, when its fate was being decided, has always been sacred,” Mr. Putin said, drawing parallels between World War II and the war in Ukraine.

Spectators at Monday’s parade, which commemorates victory in World War II.


Photo:

kirill kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The Kremlin leader criticized the West for ignoring Russia’s demands for security guarantees, for rejecting Moscow’s stipulations that NATO stop its eastern expansion and for failing to agree to the establishment of a security system that guarantees equal protection for all nations.

“Russia urged the West to hold an honest dialogue in search for meaningful and agreeable solutions, and to take account of each other’s interests,” Mr. Putin said. “All in vain. NATO countries did not want to heed us, which means they had totally different plans. And we saw it.”

The US and NATO have rejected Mr. Putin’s demands that the alliance halt expansion and bar Kyiv entry, saying they firmly support the alliance’s open-door policy. Prior to the war, the US and its allies had expressed a willingness to continue negotiations with Russia with the goal of improving security.

Monday’s parade saw Russia’s military strength on display, with the column of mechanized hardware led onto the square by Russia’s Soviet-era T-34 tanks, followed by a series of modern tanks, infantry-fighting vehicles, and Iskander short-range ballistic-missile systems. Tornado-G multiple-launch rocket systems were also paraded for the first time across Red Square, state media reported.

Russian tanks were part of the display of military strength in Monday’s parade in Moscow.


Photo:

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

More than 10,000 service personnel marched in formation across the open square between the Kremlin and the GUM department store, which was draped in banners declaring “Happy Victory Day” and an iconic image of a Red Army soldier raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament in World War II. Hundreds of spectators filled the stands.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, clad in full dress uniform, saluted the soldiers as he drove past in a black Aurus convertible.

An airshow was canceled due to inclement weather, state media reported. It had been scheduled to feature eight MiG-29 fighters flying over Red Square in the formation of the letter “Z,” which has become a patriotic symbol to rally Russians around the Kremlin’s military action in Ukraine.

In past years, Moscow invited dozens of heads of state to the parade, but the Kremlin said it didn’t invite any foreign leaders to this year’s event.

Applause and cheers rank out as Mr. Putin left Red Square waving to the crowd. “Russia, Russia,” they sang.

Write to Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com

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