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Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a scathing speech in Moscow’s Red Square on Tuesday that lasted just 10 minutes, during which he doubled down on the Kremlin’s justification for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“A real war has once again been unleashed in our homeland,” he said during annual celebrations marking Russia’s World War II victory. “Western elites talk about their exceptionalism, dividing people and inciting bloody conflicts, sowing hatred, Russophobia and aggressive nationalism, destroying traditional family values.”
For nearly eight decades, Moscow’s annual Victory Day parade has not only served as a memorial to the 27 million Soviet citizens who died fighting Nazi Germany in World War II, but also as a careful display of Russia’s strength.
This year, however, May 9 celebrations across the country were canceled or scaled back, and the usual parade of uniformed troops and heavy weapons in the capital appeared a shadow of what it was before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In previous years, foreign dignitaries have visited Moscow for the festivities. But this time, only the leaders of the seven former Soviet republics – representatives of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia – made the trip.
As an increasingly isolated Putin vowed that his troops would eventually prevail in Ukraine, the military hardware show suggested its armed forces were scouring the barrel for equipment.
Instead of a long line of advanced battle tanks roaring through the streets toward the Kremlin as in previous years, the procession was led by a single, Soviet-era T-34 tank — the same one used in action against the Nazis on the Eastern Front.
Apart from a few dozen armored personnel carriers, heavy tactical vehicles used by Chechen forces and long-range anti-aircraft systems, the bulk of Russia’s arsenal – likely in operation in eastern Ukraine – is nowhere to be seen. Or to be destroyed on the battlefield.
“There was a lot of hardware attached to the tank, but officially no tank,” a Moscow resident watching the parade told POLITICO on condition of anonymity.
Across the border, a barrage of Russian rockets rained down on Kyiv overnight, with air defenses intercepting 15 missiles. Ukraine commemorates its union with Western Europe for the first time on May 8, the day before the end of World War II.
Meanwhile, part of Russia’s celebration organizers say they will honor those who fell in the fight against fascism nearly 80 years ago – a parade known as the Immortal Regiment, where Russians hold pictures of their dead loved ones, has been cancelled.
In a country where hundreds of thousands of young people are fighting Putin’s bloody war, talk of casualties is becoming more emotional by the day.