Putin's Victory Day speech was just empty words

"I’m 78 years old and I didn’t believe that things would get so bad, that brothers would slaughter their own flesh and blood," a Ukrainian woman said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Victory Day parade in Moscow, May 2018 (photo credit: PMO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Victory Day parade in Moscow, May 2018
(photo credit: PMO)

On the morning of Victory Day, the commemoration of the defeat of Nazi Germany that is celebrated on May 9, Moscow’s skies were blue and clear and the soldiers who paraded through Red Square looked as determined as ever, but something was missing, nevertheless. Perhaps it was the victory itself – the one that President Vladimir Putin promised to his people on the fatal night of February 24.

Although the Russian president called for his army to emerge victorious in their battle “against Nazism and fascism,” his speech was nothing more than a tired assembly of shabby sentences that had already been used many times in the past.

“In December 2021 we proposed to conclude an agreement on security guarantees. Russia called on the West to join in an honest dialogue, to search for reasonable, compromise solutions, to take into account each other’s interests. All in vain,” said Putin, who, according to many observers, looked tired and despondent.

“The NATO countries did not want to listen to us, which means that in fact, they had completely different plans. Preparations were underway for another punitive operation in the Donbas, for an invasion of our historical lands, including Crimea. In Kyiv, they announced the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. The NATO bloc has begun active military development of the territories adjacent to us,” he continued.

Michail Podolyak, an adviser to the president of Ukraine, immediately responded to Putin on his Twitter account.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends the Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Minsk, Belarus May 9, 2020. (credit: VASILY FEDOSENKO / REUTERS)Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends the Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Minsk, Belarus May 9, 2020. (credit: VASILY FEDOSENKO / REUTERS)

“Let’s set the record straight: NATO countries were not going to attack Russia. Ukraine did not plan to attack Crimea. The Russian military is dying not defending their country but trying to occupy another. This war had no motivation other than Russia’s painful imperial ambitions,” Podolyak said.

Putin’s highly anticipated speech on Victory Day didn’t include any surprises, which was a surprise of its own. He didn’t announce full mobilization (although it might be announced in a partial way in the coming days), and the “special military operation” didn’t transform into a war. Putin didn’t make threats against the West or Ukraine and didn’t promise to use nuclear or other nonconventional weapons.

In fact, it almost felt that the war was still a distant option, rather than a very real development that didn’t play out according to Putin’s plans. At the end of his speech, it was published that the traditional military flyovers were canceled, not just in Moscow, but all over the country.

For Russians as well as for many of those who were born and raised in the Soviet Union, May 9 is not just another day. Almost every family had someone who fought in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) as well as someone who died at the front or at home during the Nazi occupation, blockade, or bombings. The veterans who fought in the Red Army are mostly gone today. Those who are alive are around 100 years old. Many of them live in poverty and just a few were able to attend the parade on Monday.

Svetlana Podolskih, a resident of Moscow, said in a conversation with The Media Line she would prefer that the money which is spent on the parade benefit the veterans and their families.

“My grandfather also fought in this war; he was wounded. For me, it is a historic day, a day of glory and tears. But I would prefer to help the veterans today rather than have this parade,” she said.

Podolskih, like many other Russians, was hesitant to answer questions about the current war in Ukraine. The legislation that was passed by the Russian Duma in March forbids spreading any “disinformation and fake news about the special military operation.” The punishment for this crime is up to 15 years in jail.

Nevertheless, hundreds of Russian activists have participated in various forms of protest across the country. Eighty-two people were arrested by police for “violation of public order.”

Russia also celebrated its Victory Day Monday in occupied Ukrainian territories. A 300-meter St. George’s Ribbon was displayed in Mariupol, and a 77-meter Russian flag flew in Berdyansk.

The ribbon, a symbol of Victory Day, is also associated with support for the Russian government, and since 2014, with pro-Russian separatist sentiment.

A group of locals tried to protest around Freedom Square in Kherson. They carried Ukrainian flags and protested the war and Russian aggression. The group was soon dispersed by Russian soldiers; some residents were beaten and then arrested.

Evgenya, a resident of Kherson who agreed to talk to The Media Line on terms of anonymity, said that although she celebrated Victory Day every year her whole life, this year she decided to stay home and turn off the TV.

“They [the soldiers of the Red Army] fought for peace. And now their heirs are drawing the letter ‘Z’ that symbolizes the war and demand to ‘punish these Ukrops’ [a derogatory term that is sometimes used in Russia for Ukrainians]. I’m 78 years old and I didn’t believe that things would get so bad, that brothers would slaughter their own flesh and blood,” she said.

On Monday night the Russian Army carried out another attack on Odesa, as well as on the Mykolaiv and Dnipro areas. The Ukrainian users of Telegram made jokes about the “special fireworks” that Putin prepared for Ukraine. Many of them celebrated quite a different development on this day – the signature of a land-lease agreement by US President Joe Biden. This agreement allows the speed-up of the supply of weapons, military assistance, and other resources to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Biden for this decision and expressed hope that the lend-lease will allow Ukrainians to fight successfully for their freedom and democracy.

Earlier Zelenskyy said that soon Ukraine will have two Victory Days: “Today we celebrate the Day of Victory over Nazism, and we will not give a piece of our history to anyone. We are proud of our ancestors, who, together with other peoples, defeated Nazism as part of the anti-Hitler coalition, and we won’t let anyone annex this victory, we won’t let it be appropriated. We are fighting for freedom for our children and therefore we will win. We will never forget what our ancestors did in World War II, in which more than eight million Ukrainians died. And very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine.”

While the Russian president focused mainly on the past, counting the reasons that led to the invasion, the Ukrainian president spoke about the future, a future in which his country will be victorious. In the present, however, the brutal and bloody war continues, and every day it takes more victims.