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Putin’s V-Day Speech and the War in Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9, 2022. (Mikhail Metzel/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

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

Al-Ittihad, UAE, May 14

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 ten 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? 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. – Jeffrey Kemp (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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