Russia prepares a Victory Day parade over the Nazis marked by the offensive in Ukraine | International
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Just after his first inauguration as president of Russia, Vladimir Putin defined in 2000 during the Victory Day commemorations “the military secret” of the nation. “Dear veterans, you have accustomed us to winning. This habit is in our blood and has become the key to not only military victories. It will help our generation to build a strong and prosperous country, and will raise the Russian flag of democracy and freedom”, he stated then. More than two decades later, today the Russians are fighting in the Ukraine, —in what Moscow calls a “special operation”—, and the Kremlin seeks to get its chest out with the celebration of the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
But after more than two months of offensive, Putin’s army has failed to take kyiv and tries to advance in the south and east, where the attacks have intensified. The hypothesis of a rapid “special operation” has vanished. Despite this, and with the shadow of the latent nuclear threat, the Kremlin has denied that it intends to order a general mobilization to support the Ukrainian front. At the event to commemorate the victory in the Great Patriotic War there will be no foreign guests accompanying Putin on May 9.
Russian and Ukrainian grandparents fought against Nazism under the banner of the Soviet Union more than 80 years ago. Today, his grandchildren face each other on the battlefield. And despite this, some and others still celebrate that May 9 in which Berlin capitulated. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic declared that day a holiday in 1962, three years before the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet did so in Moscow.
Today, the offensive in Ukraine, which has been going on for more than two months, generates mixed feelings around this May 9 among Russians. For many it will be a day of patriotic vindication and unity; for others, a strange celebration, because they do not finish taking on the fight against a country they consider a brother. There are families divided between the two fronts of the war and they know many dramas first hand. There are fewer and fewer older people who suffered from the Nazi invasion and the meaning of Victory Day has changed over time. “I remember it as a family gathering. The grandchildren and the children spent the whole day with the grandparents,” says Daría, a 25-year-old Muscovite.
In his opinion and that of many others, this family tribute has become politicized in the last decade. In some cities such as St. Petersburg, the Immortal Regiment march, where civilians carry portraits of their relatives killed in World War II, is expected to include military personnel wounded or killed in Ukraine this year. In that same city, the demonstrations on May 1 were vetoed, “due to epidemiological restrictions.”
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A smaller parade
The military march on Red Square will be more discreet this Monday than last year, except in the number of aircraft (77, one more). In total, 129 combat vehicles and around 10,000 soldiers will parade, compared to 191 and 12,000, respectively, last year. Among them will be soldiers, Cossacks and the Yunarmiya youth, a movement created by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in the image and likeness of the Soviet Pioneers to instill their patriotic and military values in teenagers.
On the day of the dress rehearsal, this Saturday, a Mig 29 squadron crossed the sky of Moscow drawing the Z, the Russian propaganda logo that went viral on the armored cars deployed in Ukraine. On the ground marched the classic RS-24 Yars ballistic missiles, immense 20-meter-long masses, and a group of armored vehicles that drew applause from the public when the announcer announced that they had returned from Ukraine. A few kilometers from Red Square, at the Vishnevski central military hospital, a delegation from the Ministry of Defense and the governor of Kostroma presented awards at the same time to several wounded and mutilated in Ukraine. “Thank you very much for your work,” the politician told a convalescent soldier.
“The parade of vehicles has been good, there are fewer than usual, but we understand what is happening…”, commented one of the spectators, Maxim Korovin, without completing the sentence, after witnessing the dress rehearsal with his children. “It is a special year, we must support the kids who are there”, this father emphasized before predicting that the conflict “will stabilize”. “It is no use to anyone if it continues over time. It is necessary to take an area that separates the two parts a little, ”he added. The toughest wing of the Kremlin, headed by the Secretary General of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, calls on Putin to declare a permanent war economy to face the threat he considers to be NATO, and also advocates the fragmentation of Ukraine .
Near Korovin and her children were two friends dressed in a T-shirt and flags with the Z. “Our feelings are very good; our boys are the most handsome and best”, said one of them, IIrina, to which Liubov added “proud!”. They lost several grandparents in World War II. The military hat that Irina wears dates from then and passed from generation to generation in her family. “We are going to win, fascism cannot return,” she stressed. When asked who is a Nazi in Ukraine, she clarifies: “Only the Government, the leaders. We were always a single country, brothers, we never had anything against each other”.
Imperial, Communist symbols and a shoehorned Z
The streets of Moscow have been adorned for days with the portraits of veterans of the Great Patriotic War with the word “pobeda!” (victory) written. In streets, shops and schools there are also five-pointed stars of the Soviet Union, without the hammer and sickle, and the flags with the orange and black stripes of the imperial order of Saint George, a distinction of the czars that Lenin suppressed, but that now the Kremlin has recovered to reinforce the patriotic sense of Victory Day. Of the Z there is hardly a trace.
Despite the situation in which the country is immersed and the calls for unity and to form a common front with the Government, few Saint George ribbons are seen on the lapels in Moscow at the moment compared to other years, and the Z is not It has finished penetrating society, except in some cars and social network profiles. It is also true that the capital is not representative of the opinion of the provinces. Probably, this May 9 there will be a demonstration of massive support like the one that could be seen in the Luzhniki stadium on March 18, on the occasion of the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The mixture of symbols does not end up pairing in the eyes of many Russians who defend the offensive in Ukraine. For the ultranationalists, the Z is an aberration, because, they denounce, Russia is already represented by its imperial symbols such as the double-headed eagle. The communists, for their part, accuse the Kremlin of erasing the Soviet legacy.
These days the leader of the Communist Party, Guennadi Zyuganov, denounced: “The curtains placed over Lenin’s mausoleum at a fateful moment for the country are a complete disgrace. Instead of uniting the people around our victorious history, the fifth column installed in high places is dedicated to sabotage”. Since the first was held in 1965 and until 2005, the leaders presided over the military parade on the roof of the monument to Lenin, and there were no curtains to hide it. The communist Zyuganov, whose party is the second largest in Russia and supports the Kremlin in the Duma, added: “I would like to remember that it was at the foot of that mausoleum that the Soviet soldiers dropped the banners of the defeated Nazi Reich in the historic parade of 1945 ″.
The paradox increases if one takes into account that one of the pretexts put forward by Putin to launch his attack against Ukraine, in addition to the claim to “denazify” the country, has been that kyiv erased its history. As proof, the law that kyiv approved to get rid of communist reminiscences in 2014, after the Russian annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Donbas, is pointed out.
Evolution in the discourse and image of Putin
Victory Day and its celebration in the last two decades serve as a thermometer to measure the evolution of Putin’s speech and image. In 2000 he was not accompanied by other leaders, but later there were years of international boom. In 2005, the then US President George Bush, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, and the leaders of France and Germany, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, the latter today lobbyist of the Russian gas company Gazprom.
This year the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, stated when explaining the absence of international leaders: “This is our holiday, it is a sacred holiday for all of Russia, for all Russians. We do not invite foreign leaders.” Nobody attended last year either, “because it was not a perfect year”, but this excuse fails if one takes into account that in 2018 the Israeli prime minister and the Serbian president attended it, and in 2017 it was the Moldovan president. In 2020, on the 75th anniversary, the leaders of Serbia, Moldova, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, among other countries, and unrecognized territories such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia were present.
Even its allies in the Commonwealth of Independent States have had diplomatic clashes with Moscow in the last two months over its offensive in Ukraine. The Kazakh government – saved from the protests by the Kremlin in January – has warned Moscow that its territory will not serve as a paradise to circumvent Western sanctions and has canceled the Victory Day celebration. In Serbia it fell like a jug of cold water that Putin compared the protection of the separatist areas of Donbas with Kosovo. And in Moldova, the new president, Maia Sandu, has turned to the European Union.
Until 2014, Putin’s speech on Victory Day emphasized the painful plane of war more than victory. “In truth, May 9 is a party with tears. Greatness and sadness have merged in it forever”, he stated in 2001. His speech also included the allied countries. “You cannot build a safe world just for yourself, and even more so, to the detriment of others,” he said in 2001.
Twenty years later the message was different. “This holiday is ours by right of kinship with those who defeated, broke and crushed Nazism,” Putin said last year, indirectly excluding his former allies and some former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, from victory, whom he accused of allowing let fascism germinate in them today. After stating that “slogans of racial superiority, anti-Semitism and Russophobia” led to World War II, Putin stressed that those lessons had not been learned.
With this background, millions of Russians will be watching TV this Monday. History and speech buff eternal, Putin could give clues about his intentions regarding the “special operation” in Ukraine. And if he decides to go all out, the Russians fear a state of war that would start with 900,000 reservists being called up and many restrictions on civilians.
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