ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine –
With no major new battlefield successes to brag about, Russian President Vladimir Putin has marked his country’s biggest patriotic holiday without uttering the word “Ukraine.”
The Russian leader oversaw Monday’s Victory Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square, which saw troops march in formation and military equipment rolling in celebration of the Union’s role Soviet Union in victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
Many Western analysts had expected Putin to use the holiday to blow the whistle for some victory in Ukraine or announce escalation, but he did not. Instead, he sought to justify the war as a necessary response to what he described as a hostile Ukraine.
“The danger is increasing day by day,” Putin said. “Russia has issued a pre-emptive response to the aggression. It is a must, timely and only decision. ”
As the conflict dragged on into the 11th week, he gave clear direction on the specifics of the battlefield, not to mention the potentially pivotal battle for the important southern port of Mariupol.
Meanwhile, on land, fierce fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine. To the south, the important Black Sea port of Odessa has come under constant missile attack. And Russian forces managed to end the resistance of the Ukrainian garrison as they stood last at a steel plant in Mariupol.
One of the Ukrainian fighters keeping at the steel mill said they are still defending the city.
Valeri Paditel, head of border guards in the Donetsk region, said the fighters were “doing everything to make future defenders of the city proud”.
Putin has long opposed NATO’s move east into the former Soviet republics. Ukraine and its Western allies have denied it poses any threat.
As he did, Putin misrepresented the war as a battle against Nazism, thereby linking the war to what many Russians consider to be their greatest hour: war. victory over Hitler. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in the Great Patriotic War, which Russia calls the Soviet Union.
After unexpectedly fierce resistance forced the Kremlin to abandon its attempt to attack Kyiv more than a month ago, Moscow’s forces focused on capturing Donbas, the industrial region of eastern Ukraine.
But skirmishes have gone back and forth, village-by-village slogans and analysts have suggested that Putin could use his holiday speech to present the Russian people with a victory in the context. grievances about the country’s heavy casualties and punitive effects of Western Sanctions.
Others have suggested that he might declare the war a war, not just a “special military operation,” and order a nationwide mobilization, with a reserve force, to replenish supplies. exhausted for a protracted conflict.
In the end, he gave no signal as to where the war was going or how he might intend to save it. Specifically, he has yet to answer the question of how Russia will mobilize more forces for a continuing war.
Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
Nigel Gould Davies, former British ambassador to Belarus, said: “Russia did not win this war. It started to lose it. ”
He said that unless Russia makes a major breakthrough, “the balance of advantage will gradually shift in favor of Ukraine, especially as Ukraine has access to a growing volume of increasingly sophisticated military equipment.” of the West.”
Despite Russia’s crackdown on dissent, anti-war sentiment has permeated. Dozens of protesters were detained across the country on Victory Day, and editors at a pro-Kremlin media establishment revolted by briefly publishing several dozen stories critical of Putin and the Kremlin. The invasion.
In Warsaw, anti-war protesters splashed Russia’s ambassador to Poland with what appeared to be red paint as he arrived at a cemetery to pay respects to Red Army soldiers who died in World War II. second war.
As Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, air raid sirens sounded again in the Ukrainian capital. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared in his own Victory Day speech that his country would eventually defeat the Russians.
“Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine,” he said in a video. “We are fighting for freedom, for our children, and therefore we will win,” he added.
An adviser to Zelenskyy explained that Putin’s speech showed that Russia was not interested in escalating the war through the use of nuclear weapons or direct engagement with NATO.
Speaking late Monday in an online interview, Oleksiy Arestovych pointed to Putin’s statement that Russia will honor those who fought in World War Two by doing “everything to frighten of a global war that doesn’t happen anymore”.
Instead, he predicted Russia would make “a slow attempt” to gain control of the Donbas, including Mariupol, and the land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula that the Kremlin seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Arestovych said Russia would prolong the war while bleeding Ukraine’s economy with the aim of getting Ukraine to agree to give up that territory.
Russia has about 97 combat battalions in Ukraine, mainly in the east and south, a slight increase from last week, according to a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment. Pentagon. According to the Pentagon, each unit has about 1,000 troops.
Overall, the Russian effort in the Donbas has made no significant progress in recent days and continues to face stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, the official said.
Russia is probably closest to a victory in Mariupol. The US official said about 2,000 Russian forces are around Mariupol and the city is being hit by air strikes. Up to 2,000 Ukrainian troops are believed to be holding out at the steel mill, the city’s last stronghold of resistance.
The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, freeing troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas and giving the Kremlin a much-needed success.
Odessa, too, has been increasingly bombarded in recent days. Ukraine’s military said Russian forces fired seven missiles from the air at Odessa on Monday night, hitting a shopping mall and a warehouse. The military said one person was killed and five were injured.
The war in the country long known as “Europe’s loaf” has disrupted the global food supply.
“I see cellars filled with cereals, wheat and corn ready for export,” Charles Michel, president of the European Council, lamented in a tweet after a visit to Odessa. Food and equipment, he said, have been depleted due to war and the closure of ports in the Black Sea, with “serious consequences for vulnerable countries.”
Gambrell reports from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
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