President Vladimir Putin vowed on Tuesday at a military parade in Red Square that Russian forces would win in Ukraine, blaming the West for the conflict.
But his defiant speech was overshadowed by scathing comments from Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the pro-Kremlin Wagner mercenary group, blaming the Russian military for repeated failures in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, EU Prime Minister Ursula von der Leyen has arrived in Kiev to celebrate Europe Day for Peace and Unity, a symbolic rebuttal to Moscow’s Victory Day military parade.
In a short speech, Putin told a line of Russian military personnel in ceremonial uniforms in central Moscow that the country’s future depended on Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
“Today, civilization is once again at a decisive turning point,” Putin said, standing shoulder to shoulder with the elderly veterans and soldiers of Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.
“A war has begun against our motherland,” he said, adding, “The future of our nation and people depends on you.”
“For Russia, for our army, for victory! Long live!”
But the celebrations marking the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany 78 years ago are overshadowed by the military’s slow progress and heavy losses in Ukraine.
– Wagner accusation –
In a statement released alongside Putin’s speech, the head of the Wagner Corps accused some Russian troops of abandoning their positions near Bakhmut, the epicenter of fighting in Ukraine.
“They all fled, exposing the front line,” Prigozhin said, repeating his vow that his men would leave Bakhmut by 9 May if the Russians did not supply more ammunition.
Wagner has led Russia’s months-long offensive against Bakhmut, a destroyed industrial city in eastern Ukraine where Russian forces have largely disappeared after a winter offensive.
“Why can’t country defend country?” Prigozhin, in a scathing video, accused Russian military officials of “cheating” Putin on how the Ukrainian campaign is being led.
Despite becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage since he launched the conflict last February, Putin has met with the leaders of several former Soviet states, including Armenia and Kazakhstan, on Red Square. I was surrounded.
Towards Victory Day, Russia has been hit with several acts of sabotage, including an explosion that derailed a train, a drone attack on the Kremlin, and a car bomb that injured a pro-Kremlin writer.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “all necessary measures” were being taken to ensure the safety of the leader.
Yet more than 20 cities and towns have canceled plans to hold their own military parades over security concerns.
Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has galvanized patriotic fervor around the Soviet victory over the Nazis in 1945, cementing his status as the heir to Soviet power.
The Kremlin also uses memories of the Soviet war effort to justify its attack in Ukraine, claiming it is fighting Western-backed “fascists.”
– “European Family” –
Meanwhile, the President of the European Commission traveled by train from Poland to Kiev to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and engage in his country’s quest for eventual EU membership.
Zelensky spurred on the tradition of the Soviet Union’s Military Victory Day by decreing that 9 May be celebrated as Europe Day in his country, as in Brussels.
“I very much welcome President Zelensky’s decision to declare May 9 as Europe Day. Ukraine is part of our European family.”
“Being in Kiev today, May 9, is symbolic, but it is also a decisive and very real sign of reality. The EU cooperates with Ukraine on many issues.”
Shortly before her arrival, the Ukrainian Air Force said it had shot down 23 of the 25 cruise missiles launched by Russia between Monday and Tuesday night.
The Kiev air alert ended about an hour before von der Leyen arrived.