Russian President Vladimir Putin’s much-anticipated Victory Day Speech turned out to be unspectacular.
The speech was part of Russia’s Victory Day celebration on May 9th, which commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany during World War II. A day celebrated with patriotic motifs, military parades, and, of course, an address by the Russian president, this year’s marking of the historical victory was less spectacular than past years. According to the BBC, less troops were on display in military marches, and planned flyovers by the air force were cancelled in Moscow and other cities due, the Kremlin said, to bad weather.
But Putin’s address was carried out as planned. For weeks, experts on Russia had wondered how the Russian leader would use the speech. Would he declare a Russian victory of some fashion in Ukraine? Would he reveal something of his future plans for a Russian invasion of Ukraine? In the end he did neither, and his 11-minute speech amounted to a reiteration of the propaganda used to justify the war, accusing NATO of secretly planning to attack Russia, and Ukraine of “openly planning” to invade Crimea and launch “another punitive operation in Donbas.”
“There was every indication that a clash with neo-Nazis and Banderites backed by the United States and their minions was unavoidable,” he further stated.
Russia, he said, had no other choice but to “launch a pre-emptive strike at the aggression,”—Putin’s euphemism for the invasion of Ukraine.
He also referred to Ukraine as part of Russia’s “historic lands.”
Using elevated rhetoric, he positioned Russia as the protector of tradition against a modernist West led by the United States.
“We will never give up our love for our Motherland, our faith, and traditional values, our ancestors’ customs, and respect for all peoples and cultures,” he declared. “Meanwhile, the West seems to be set to cancel these millennia-old values.”
He further accused the West of “cynical falsifications of World War II history” and “escalating Russophobia.”
“We are aware that U.S. veterans who wanted to come to the parade in Moscow were actually forbidden to do so. But I want them to know: we are proud of your deeds and your contribution to our common victory,” he added.
As it had previously in World War II, Russia today, in the Ukraine, claims to be fighting for the Motherland.
He concluded his praise for Russia as a “multi-ethnic nation” where soldiers of various ethnicities were fighting together as brothers in Ukraine.
Ukraine quickly responded, with the Ukrainian presidential official Mykhailo Podoliak tweeting later that day: “NATO countries were not going to attack Russia. Ukraine did not plan to attack Crimea. The Russian military is dying, not defending their country, but trying to occupy another. There were no rational reasons for this war other than sick imperial ambitions.”
Additional Twitter reactions came from exiled Russian opposition members.
Gennady Gudkov, a former lawmaker, and part of the liberal opposition, tweeted:
Putin repeated quotes from the zombie drawer, not daring anything more serious. So the Kremlin no longer has any tricks in store. Now Putin’s defeat is a matter of time!
Kira Yarmysh, spokesperson for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, responded in a tweet:
An old man, mad in his self-isolation, stands alone on the podium because no one came to be with him, coughs and says something about the Nazis of NATO. I don’t think even the most devoted Putin supporter will believe that this is an image of victory.
Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, also tweeted: “Putin’s unremarkable speech today underscores that he has no moves left, no new ideas. He just lied about the same old same old.
British Defence Minister Ben Wallace gave a speech at the National Army Museum in London, shortly following Putin’s own address.
“Just over an hour ago and 1,500 miles away, the world was implored to listen and watch Red Square,” he referenced the Russian celebration.
Referring to the Russian President, he added, “I believe that his ongoing and unprovoked conflict in Ukraine does nothing but dishonour those same soldiers. Both the ones marching across Red Square as I speak and all the forebearers they supposedly march to commemorate.”
He accused Putin of wanting to create an “ongoing memorial to militarism.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also gave his own address that day. The BBC reports that he said Nazis had been expelled from Ukraine in 1945 and that his country would not allow anyone to “annex this victory.” He added that Ukraine would soon have two victory days to celebrate.
Media also reported that small acts of protest occurred in Russia. Hackers infiltrated programme guides on smart TV with anti-war messaging. “On your hands is the blood of thousands of Ukrainians” and “the TV and the authorities are lying. No to war” briefly flashed across screens. The BBC reports that hackers also sabotaged the front page of the news website Lenta with 10 detailed stories about the reality of the war on Ukraine. One headline read, “Russia leaves the corpses of its soldiers in Ukraine.”
In Warsaw, protestors threw red paint on Russian ambassador Sergey Andreev as he arrived at a cemetery to place a wreath on the graves of Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.