Voices of the Arab press: Putin’s V-Day speech and the War in Ukraine

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 MARKING VICTORY Day in Moscow’s Red Square (photo credit: Host photo agency/RIA Novosti via Getty Images)
MARKING VICTORY Day in Moscow’s Red Square
(photo credit: Host photo agency/RIA Novosti via Getty Images)

Putin’s V-Day speech and the War in Ukraine

Al-Ittihad, UAE, May 14

For more stories from The Media Line go to themedialine.org

May 9, Victory Day, is the most important date in the Russian calendar, as it commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in 1945. The annual military parade in Moscow’s Red Square is an annual excuse for Russian leaders to show off the modern Russian arsenal and remind everyone around the world of the sacrifices made by the Soviet Union in order to achieve that military victory. This year, the Victory Day parade was held against the backdrop of the Ukraine war. There was much anticipation for a dramatic speech by President Vladimir Putin outlining his plans to end the war with another victory. But this did not happen, as Putin only spoke for 10 minutes and gave no indication of his future intentions. Putin’s speech focused on the threat Russia faces from Ukraine and its Western backers, noting that a military operation in Ukraine was necessary as a “preemptive response” to NATO’s preparations for a “punitive operation” in Russia’s historical territories, including Crimea. He also implied that Ukraine was seeking nuclear weapons. The military operation, according to Putin, was “the only right and timely decision... it was the decision of an independent, strong and sovereign nation.” 

But to many observers, what Putin did not say on May 9 was even more troubling than what he did say. Putin didn’t claim “mission accomplished” and didn’t refer to a “victory.” Nor did he speculate about how the war would end. Therefore, he made no indication of an acceptable “exit strategy” for Russia. He didn’t escalate the rhetoric or call for a mass mobilization of Russian resources, including more soldiers, into Ukraine. He made no reference to a full-scale war against Ukraine as distinct from the current “special military operation.” Nor did he threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. 

Was the absence of any reference to Russia’s strategic goals an intentional effort by Putin to surprise and mislead the world? Or was his behavior a response to external and internal challenges? Indeed, Russia cannot afford to lose the war, but do we really think it can win it? 

 A blast this week in the southern port city of Mariupol in Ukraine. Will the world soon accuse Israel of being like Russia? (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters) A blast this week in the southern port city of Mariupol in Ukraine. Will the world soon accuse Israel of being like Russia? (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Today, Moscow faces three major difficulties. First, the Russian army showed exceptional weakness and incompetence, and incurred high casualties, and there are many reports of low morale among soldiers. Second, as the news of military casualties and setbacks becomes clearer to the Russian public, a wave of public unrest could erupt, including by elite groups that have been sanctioned by Western countries. Third, Russia should assume that Western military support for Ukraine will only continue to grow, including by providing Ukraine with increasingly sophisticated heavy weapons such as long-range artillery.

Russia might believe that with massive firepower its army would eventually liberate the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine and major Black Sea ports such as Mariupol and Odessa, after which it could declare victory. However, the difficult situation that Russia faces is that its armed forces may not have the capacity to achieve this goal. We therefore see no clear end to this war in sight. – Geoffrey Kemp 

Barak warns of the fall of Israel

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, May 12

Israel has been going through a state of national confusion and instability, which only intensifies every time it tries to impose itself on the Palestinian people – be it in forced expulsions of Palestinian families, violence and brutality against Muslim worshipers, or blockades on Palestinian towns and villages. This state of confusion centers on several strategic challenges faced by the government of Naftali Bennett. First, Bennett’s government recently lost its parliamentary majority, after a senior member of the coalition surprised her colleagues and resigned from her role. With the number of coalition seats now equal to the number of opposition seats, Bennett’s government is at imminent risk of collapsing. Second, the United Arab List-Ra’am has threatened to suspend its membership in the coalition in response to the repressive policy against Palestinian worshipers in al-Aqsa Mosque. Finally, Israeli society is being torn from the inside due to racial, ethnic and religious tensions that are finally coming to bear. 

In this context, former prime minister Ehud Barak warned that the biggest existential threat to the State of Israel is its internal crisis – that is, the deepening sense of hatred among Jews. In an op-ed published in one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Barak outlined the deepening schisms within the Israeli public, and attributed them to an “unholy alliance,” between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the dark extremists found on the far Right. Together, Barak claims, this alliance seeks to ignite a religious war that would set the region on fire. 

In order to prove his point, Barak mentioned what he heard from one of the leaders of the Israeli intelligence services, who claimed that there are “strong chances” that Israel would find itself on the path toward a civil war. Further evidence of this is the circulation of videos on social media depicting Jewish settlers and religious figures blaming Bennett for the death of Israelis and calling Jews to bear arms to defend themselves. – Hussein Khairy 

Healthier Ramadan fasting

Al Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 13

This year, I decided to take drastic steps and make sure that my Ramadan would be healthy, specifically in terms of nutrition and sports. Unlike previous years, I wanted to make sure that everything I eat before beginning and after breaking the fast would be healthy. This began by preparing for Ramadan about a week before it started. 

To prepare myself, I refrained from eating solid foods for an entire week, went on a juice cleanse, and followed a diet of “intermittent fasting,” in which I ate in eight-hour intervals. I filled myself with water, coffee and herbal teas. A few days following the end of Ramadan, I also refrained from food for about three days, with the aim of cleaning the body of toxins, regulating the level of insulin in the blood, raising the growth rate of hormones, and getting rid of some unwanted fats. 

During the month of Ramadan itself, I made sure to follow a diet based on beneficial fats, proteins and low in carbohydrates. All the while, I forced myself to stay away from popular Ramadan treats such as fried dough, sweets and pastries. I even refrained from eating dates, which are considered a healthy snack, because I wanted to maintain low blood sugar levels. It turns out that one date contains enough sugar to sustain the human body for a whole day.

Regulating what I eat, and when, allowed me to finally break away from the emotional relationship I developed with food, particularly around Ramadan. I admit that there is one goal I failed to achieve, which is for Ramadan to be a month without any harmful carbohydrates. While traveling, I did have some dishes that were rather unhealthy. However, I also managed to stay active by working out three times a week and taking long walks under the sun on my off-days. All of these changes in behavior made me feel healthier, more vital and far more energized during the month of Ramadan. – Hassan Mustafa

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.