Putin invokes WWII victory to spur army in Ukraine

Addressing massed ranks of service personnel on Red Square on the 77th anniversary of victory over Germany, Putin condemned what he called external threats to weaken and divide Russia, and repeated familiar arguments that he had used to justify Russia’s invasion — that Nato was creating threats right next to its borders.

He directly addressed soldiers fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Russia has pledged to “liberate” from Kyiv’s control.

“You are fighting for the motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II. So that there is no place in the world for executioners, castigators and Nazis,” he said.

His speech included a minute of silence. “The death of each one of our soldiers and officers is our shared grief and an irreparable loss for their friends and relatives,” said Putin, promising that the state would look after their children and families.

He was addressing Russia on one of its most important annual holidays, when the nation honours the 27 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives in the struggle to defeat Adolf Hitler — a source of national pride and identity.

But Putin had no victory to announce in Ukraine and his 11-minute address was largely notable for what he did not say.

He did not mention Ukraine by name, and offered no indication of how long the conflict might continue. There was no reference to the battle for Mariupol, where Ukrainian defenders holed up in the ruins of the Azovstal steel works were still defying Russia’s assault.

However, in a televised meeting in his Kremlin office after the parade, Putin offered condolences to Artyom Zhoga, the father of a Russian battalion commander killed in the Donbas region, telling him: “All plans are being fulfilled. A result will be achieved — on that account there is no doubt.”

Putin has repeatedly likened the war — which he casts as a battle against dangerous “Nazi-inspired nationalists” in Ukraine — to the challenge the Soviet Union faced when Hitler invaded in 1941.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said it is Russia that is staging a “bloody re-enactment of Nazism” in an unprovoked war of aggression.

Preceded by a stirring fanfare, Putin delivered his address after a group of eight high-stepping guards marched across the cobbles of Red Square carrying the Russian tricolour and the red Soviet hammer-and-sickle victory banner, accompanied by stirring martial music.

The fighting forces responded with booming cheers as Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu crossed the square in a black limousine, saluting units including missile, national guard and paratroop units and congratulating them on the anniversary.

Putin’s speech was followed by a parade across the vast square featuring Russia’s latest Armata and T-90M Proryv tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

A planned fly-past was cancelled because of cloudy conditions.

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