As the Russian military continues to suffer, Western officials and a shocked population in Ukraine are viewing with increasing anxiety Russia’s Victory Day holiday on May 9 – a celebration of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany – for fear that President Vladimir Putin might use it as a splendor. A stage to intensify the attacks and mobilize its citizens for an all-out war.
While Russia has inflicted death and destruction across Ukraine and made some progress in the east and south over the past 10 weeks, tough Ukrainian resistance, heavy weapons provided by the West, and Russian military incompetence have denied Mr. Putin the quick victory that originally emerged. They had anticipated it, including the initial goal of decapitating the government in Kyiv.
Now, however, with Russia on the verge of being hit EU oil embargoWith Victory Day only five days away, Putin may see the need to shake up the West with a new escalation. Concern is growing that Mr. Putin will use the event, when he traditionally presides over a parade and delivers a military speech, to attack Russia’s perceived enemies and expand the conflict.
Indicating those concerns, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace predicted last week that Mr. Putin would use the opportunity to redefine what the Russian president called a “special military operation” into war, calling for the mass mobilization of the Russian people.
Such a declaration would pose a new challenge to war-torn Ukraine, as well as to Washington and its NATO allies as they try to confront Russian aggression without getting directly involved in the conflict. However, the Kremlin on Wednesday denied that Mr. Putin would declare war on May 9, calling it “nonsense”, and Russian analysts noted that the announcement of the military conscription could provoke violent domestic reactions.
However, for months the Russian hierarchy also denied that it intended to invade Ukraine, and did exactly that on February 24. So speculation about Mr. Putin’s D-Day intention is intensifying.
“This is the question everyone is asking,” Valery Dzotzati, visiting assistant professor at Center for Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Kansas, on Wednesday, adding that “the short answer is no one knows what will happen on May 9.”
Professor Dzotsati said that declaring mass mobilization or all-out war might prove very unpopular among Russians. He predicted that Mr. Putin would make the “safest option” and point to the territories Russia had already captured in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine to declare an “initial victory”.
Preparations for May 9 are going well in Russia, as the country prepares to celebrate the 77th anniversary of the Soviet army’s victory over the Nazis while fighting another war against what Mr. Putin claims, falsely, to be modern-day Nazis running Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Russian state media reported that warplanes and helicopters were training to fly in formations over Moscow’s Red Square – a display of military might that included eight MiG-29s flying in the shape of the letter “Z”, which has become Icon everywhere Russian Nationalism and War Support.
Other warplanes crashed over Moscow while releasing traces of white, blue and red – the colors of the Russian flag.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu said on Wednesday that military parades on May 9 will be held in 28 Russian cities and will be attended by about 65,000 personnel and more than 460 aircraft.
Ukraine has warned that Russia was also planning to organize May 9 events in occupied Ukrainian cities, including the devastated southern port of Mariupol, where Ukrainian officials say more than 20,000 civilians have been killed and the rest are struggling to survive without adequate food or heat. . and water.
Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Agency said the Russians were clearing the central streets of Mariupol of corpses and debris in an effort to make the city look like a “celebration center”.
Ukrainian civilians, who have been battered by Russia for weeks, increasingly fear that Russia will use D-Day to expose them to even more deadly attacks.
In the western city of Lviv, which lost power on Wednesday after Russian missiles hit power stations, Yorgiy Hural, 43, the director of a government office, said he had planned to go with his wife and young children to stay with relatives in a village around the world. 40 miles away to escape what was feared to be an expansion of the war on May 9.
“I worry about them – and myself,” he said. “A lot of people I know talk about it.”
In years past, Putin has used May 9 – a semi-sacred holiday for Russians, since the death of 27 million Soviets in World War II – to mobilize the nation for the prospect of a new battle ahead.
When he addressed the nation from his pulpit on Red Square on May 9 last year, he warned that Russia’s enemies were once again spreading “a lot of Nazi ideology.”
Now, with Russian state media portraying the fight in Ukraine as an unfinished business of World War II, it seems almost certain that Mr. Putin will use his May 9 speech to invoke the heroism of Soviet soldiers to try to inspire Russians to make new sacrifices.
But mass mobilization—which would likely include military conscription and a ban on Russian men of military age leaving the country—could bring the reality of war back to a larger segment of Russian society, fomenting unrest.
For many Russians, the “special military operation” in Ukraine still seems like an elusive conflict. Independent pollster Levada Found Last month, 39 percent of Russians paid little or no attention to it.
“When you see it on TV, it’s one thing,” Andrei Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a research organization close to the Russian government, said in a phone interview from Moscow. “When you get a notification from the recruiting office, that is another matter. Perhaps there are some difficulties for the leadership in making such a decision.”
Mr. Kortunov predicted that the fighting in eastern Ukraine would eventually end in a stalemate, at which point Russia and Ukraine could negotiate a deal — or rearm and regroup for a new phase of the war.
He noted that while some senior Russian officials and commentators on state television have been calling for the destruction of Ukraine, Mr. Putin has been more vague recently about his war aims, at least in public comments.
Mr. Kortunov said Mr. Putin could still declare the task accomplished once Russia had captured most of the Donbass region. Russia has expanded its control over that area significantly since the beginning of the war, but Ukraine still controls many major cities and towns.
“If it all ends with the Donbass,” said Mr. Kortunov, “there would probably be a way to make it clear that this was always the plan.” Putin has left this option open to himself.
With no solution to the conflict in sight, the European Union on Wednesday took a major step aimed at weakening Mr Putin’s ability to finance the war, proposing Comprehensive embargo on Russian oil. The measure, which is expected to win final approval within a few days, is expected to ban imports of Russian crude oil into almost all EU countries in the next six months, and ban refined oil products by the end of the year.
“Let’s be clear, it will not be easy,” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, where the announcement was met with applause. Some member states are heavily dependent on Russian oil. But we simply have to work on it.”
The European Union also pledged on Wednesday additional military support to Moldova, the former Soviet republic on Ukraine’s southwestern border that Western officials say could be used by Russia as a springboard for further attacks.
Security concerns mounted in Moldova last week as mysterious explosions rocked Transnistria, a Kremlin-backed separatist region of the country where Russia has kept soldiers since 1992.
Although European officials said they would “significantly increase” military support for Moldova, provide additional military equipment, as well as tools to counter disinformation and cyber attacks, they did not provide details.
Contribute to reporting Jane fortune tellerAnd Neil MacFarquharAnd Matina Stevis Gridnev And Monica Bronczuk.