President Vladimir Putin has told Russians that the world is at a turning point and they are engaged in a patriotic struggle as the country marked the anniversary of the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
“Today, civilization is again at a decisive turning point. A real war has been unleashed against our homeland,” he said on Tuesday in a 10-minute speech on Moscow’s Red Square.
The leaders of former Soviet allies Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan were welcomed at the Kremlin before they took their places on the dais outside for a military parade. Afterwards, they laid flowers at the eternal flame by the Kremlin walls.
Victory Day has become a central event under Putin, who says independent Ukraine represents a return of the World War II threat, but this year’s ceremony was a slimmed-down affair over security concerns as Russia’s war in Ukraine intensifies.
After Putin spoke, the military parade began with a band striking up and cannon firing a salute.
Soldiers marched through the square, followed by tanks and nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But a flyover of warplanes was cancelled, and parades in some other cities were scaled back or called off due to shortages of Russian troops and arms at the front in Ukraine.
Authorities nationwide organised the traditional “Immortal Regiment” processions, in which people carry portraits of relatives who fought against the Nazis.
Moscow-based journalist Yulia Shapovalov told Al Jazeera: “Normally it lasts an hour, but today it lasted 47 minutes.
“Critics say a celebration of Victory Day has turned into a demonstration of strength and sabre-rattling … and [that] people [have] stopped thinking about peace and the value of life,” she said.
Putin repeated familiar messages he has delivered many times in the nearly 15 months of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“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, he said.
“Their goal, and there is nothing new here, is to achieve the collapse and destruction of our country,” he said, promising that Moscow would overcome this.
“We have rebuffed international terrorism. We will protect the people of [eastern Ukraine’s] Donbas. We will ensure our security,” he said.
This appeared to be a reference to an unprecedented series of attacks on Russian soil in the run-up to the Victory Day parade, including a purported drone attack on the Kremlin citadel less than a week ago, which Moscow blamed on Kyiv and Washington. Ukraine and the United States denied having any role in the alleged attack, in which no one was harmed, saying that Kyiv’s fight was a defensive one.
But Putin did not directly address any of the challenges facing Russia as its forces prepare for an expected major counteroffensive by Ukraine. He also did not outline a path to victory.
He called for Russia to be victorious: “For Russia, for our armed forces, for victory! Hurrah!”
Putin told soldiers taking part in Moscow’s Ukraine campaign, several hundreds of whom were present at the Red Square parade, that “the whole country is with you.”
“There is nothing more important now than your combat effort,” he said.
“The security of the country rests on you today,” Putin said. “The future of our statehood and our people depend on you.”
Earlier, Russia launched about 15 cruise missiles at Ukraine’s capital, the second attack in as many days. Ukraine said its air defence systems shot all of them down after air raid alerts blared over most of the country.
Kyiv symbolised its break from Moscow this year by shifting its observance of the Nazi defeat to May 8 in line with its European allies.
On May 9, Ukraine instead marked Europe Day, celebrating a declaration that led to the founding of the body that became the European Union.
It hosted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who tweeted a picture of herself arriving at a Kyiv station by train.
“Good to be back in Kyiv. Where the values we hold dear are defended everyday,” she posted, calling it “such a fitting place to celebrate the day of Europe”.