In a defiant Victory Day speech in Red Square today, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his war in Ukraine as “a fight for our motherland” against “Nazis” in a country that had declared that that it “could attain nuclear weapons.” All three claims—that Ukraine threatens Russia, is run by Nazis, and is seeking nuclear weapons—are false. Putin also justified the start of the war as a “pre-emptive strike” against what he perceived to be “an absolutely unacceptable threat to [Russia] that was steadily being created right on [Russia’s] borders” from NATO countries. In his short speech, he did not announce attempts to intensify the war, as some analysts had feared.
On the day that commemorates the 1945 defeat of the Nazis in World War II, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also spoke. “We will never forget what our ancestors did in World War II, which killed more than eight million Ukrainians,” Zelensky said. “Very soon, there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine. And someone won’t have any,” he added in an apparent reference to Putin.
In his speech, Putin placed blame for the war in Ukraine on Western countries’ refusal last December to offer Russia security guarantees. He reported, also without evidence, that “another punitive operation in Donbass, an invasion of [Russia’s] historic lands, including Crimea, was openly in the making.” He described his decision to invade as “the only correct decision.”
Putin took particular aim at “the United States and their minions,” the latter of whom he said have “obediently put up with” claims of US exceptionalism since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He championed his citizens’ “love for our Motherland, our faith and traditional values, our ancestors’ customs and respect for all peoples and cultures” in the face of a West that “seems to be set to cancel these millennia-old values.” He said that his war in Ukraine is an effort to rid the world of “torturers, death squads, and Nazis.”
Meanwhile, 60 people were killed over the weekend when a Russian airstrike hit a school in eastern Ukraine that was serving as shelter from the unprovoked war. Also over the weekend, civilians who had sought refuge in the Azovstal steel plant complex in Mariupol were rescued, including one who commented that she “didn’t think we would make it out alive,” according to The Guardian.
Many high-profile figures around the world have rallied to show their support for Ukraine. Over the weekend, Jill Biden, the US first lady, made an unannounced stop at a temporary shelter for refugees in Ukraine, where she visited with Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady. The unusual visit by a first lady to an active war zone carried risks as well as emotional power.
“I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop, and this war has been brutal,” Jill Biden said, according to the New York Times. “The people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also visited Ukraine on Sunday. And Bono, lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, and his band member the Edge delivered a surprise concert in a Kyiv subway station that has served as a bomb shelter in recent months. Another singer dressed in Ukrainian military fatigues joined them.
“This evening, 8 May, shots will ring out in the Ukraine sky, but you’ll be free at last,” Bono said as he substituted some lyrics from a U2 song originally written about Martin Luther King, Jr. “They can take your lives, but they can never take your pride.”
Putin, in his Victory Day speech, did not address the Russian military’s noteworthy losses or underwhelming performance since the February 24 invasion.
“Let’s call out the absurdity of Russian generals, resplendent in their manicured parade uniforms, weighed down by their gold braid and glistening medals,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said in a speech at the British National Army Museum today. “They are utterly complicit in Putin’s hijacking of their forebears’ proud history; of defending against a ruthless invasion; of repelling fascism; of sacrificing themselves for a higher purpose.”
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