Russia has marked the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, triggering jitters in neighbours Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin presided over a display of Russia’s vast firepower in Moscow, more than 10 weeks into an invasion of its neighbour it terms a “special military operation”.
He told troops they were fighting for Russia’s security now.
Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was needed because the West was “preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea”, Putin said, referring to the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
He gave no evidence for his assertion.
RT.com reported that up to 11,000 troops marched on Moscow’s iconic Red Square on Monday.
The conflict is largely called the Great Patriotic War in Russia, and May 9 is one of the country’s most revered holidays.
The marching columns represented all branches of Russia’s Armed Forces, including airborne troops, military police, national guardsmen and cadets.
More than 130 armoured vehicles were led by the iconic T-34-85 tank, which was one of the main ‘workhorses’ of the Red Army during the war.
The state-of-the-art T-90M Proryv (Breakthrough) main battle tanks, S-400 air-defense missile systems, and Yars thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, were among other top-notch weapons showcased on the Red Square.
In Ukraine, Russia’s celebration triggered further trepidations on what to expect from the aggressor.
The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said: “Today we do not know what to expect from the enemy, what terrible thing they might do, so please go out onto the street as little as possible, stay in the shelters.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier confirmed the deaths of dozens of people in the Russian bombing of a school in Bilohorivka, eastern Ukraine on Saturday.
“As a result of a Russian strike on Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region, about 60 people were killed, civilians, who simply hid at the school, sheltering from shelling,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
About 90 people had taken refuge at the school, Gaidai had said. There was no response from Moscow.
In the southern port of Mariupol, which has endured the most destruction of the 10-week war, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment holed up in the Azovstal steel plant pleaded with the international community to help evacuate wounded soldiers.
“We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,” Captain Sviatoslav Palamar told an online news conference.
Zelenskiy said his country would win against Russia and would not cede any territory.
“There is no invader who can rule over our free people. Sooner or later we will win,” he said in a written address to mark the World War Two victory anniversary.
Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations vowed on Sunday to deepen Russia’s economic isolation and “elevate” a campaign against Kremlin-linked elites. read more
The G7 said it was committed to phasing out or banning Russian oil and denounced Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“His actions bring shame on Russia and the historic sacrifices of its people,” the group said, referring to Soviet Russia’s role in defeating Nazi Germany 77 years ago.
Putin has repeatedly likened the war in Ukraine – which he casts as a battle against dangerous “Nazi”-inspired nationalists in Ukraine – to the challenge the Soviet Union faced when Adolf Hitler invaded in 1941.
Ukraine and its allies reject the accusation of Nazism and the assertion that Russia is fighting for survival against an aggressive West, saying Putin unleashed an unprovoked war in an attempt to rebuild the Soviet Union.
Ahead of the military parade, Russia’s deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov said the country was developing new-generation hypersonic missiles and had enough high-precision missiles and ammunition to fulfil all the tasks assigned to its armed forces.
Moscow has come under increasingly punishing sanctions since its invasion on Feb. 24, with trade heavily impacted and assets seized.
At the parade on Monday, Putin addressed the reasons for the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kiev.
Russia had to act because a large-scale offensive against the breakaway republics in the eastern Donbass region was being planned, he said.
“We saw the military infrastructure unfolding [in Ukraine]; hundreds of foreign advisers starting their work; there were regular deliveries of the most modern weapons from NATO countries. The danger grew every day,” the president said.
“Russia gave a preemptive rebuff to aggression – this was a forced, timely and the only right decision by a sovereign, strong and independent country,” he added, referring to the launch of the military operation.
“Despite all the disagreements in international relations, Russia has always advocated the creation of a system of equal and indivisible security,” the Russian leader said.
He reminded of Moscow’s attempts to engage in dialogue on security guarantees with Washington late last year, which turned out fruitless.
“NATO countries didn’t want to hear us, which means that, in fact, they harboured completely different plans, and we saw it,” he said.
There were open preparations for a punitive operation in the Donbass and “an invasion of our historical lands, including Crimea,” Putin insisted, adding that Kiev also announced plans to restore its nuclear capabilities.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US has been increasingly talking about ‘American exceptionalism,’ Putin pointed out.
By spreading those ideas, Washington is “humiliating not only the whole world, but also its satellites, which have to pretend that they don’t notice anything and humbly accept it all. But we are a different country,” he insisted.