The Victory Day parade is held every year to celebrate the Soviet defeat of Hitler in World War II – a campaign Putin claims he is now ending off by fighting “Nazis” in Ukraine.
Western governments claimed last month that the Russian president was pressuring generals to win the war there before May 9 so he could use the occasion as a double victory parade.
When that failed to materialise, some military experts warned that he might make a full-scale declaration of war against Kyiv, which would entail a mass mobilization of Russian citizens. In the event, he did neither.
Addressing troops from all branches of the armed forces, including some who had returned recently from Ukraine, he said Russia had no choice but to invade because the West was “preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea”. He declared: “That is absolutely unacceptable to us.”
The “heroic” Russian soldiers he had sent to Ukraine were fighting the “Nazi” enemies their forefathers had battled at Stalingrad. The only difference was that these days they were controlled by Nato, which was armed with atomic weapons, rather than Hitler, he said.
Putin claimed that “in Kyiv, they announced the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons” – blithely forgetting that he has been the main one delivering nuclear-tipped threats.
In a tacit acknowledgment that the scale of Russia’s losses can no longer be convincingly hidden from the public, he signed a decree that would give support to the families of servicemen killed and wounded in the war. “The death of every soldier and officer is painful for us,” he said. “The state will do everything to take care of these families.”