LONDON — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave dueling remarks on Victory Day, the celebration of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
In a prerecorded video, filmed as he walked between antitank barriers in Kyiv, Zelensky recounted Ukraine’s role fighting Nazi invaders who swept across the western Soviet Union, which included Ukraine. Zelensky framed his celebration of that history as a direct challenge to the Kremlin’s false claim that neo-Nazis are running his country now.
“Today we celebrate the Day of Victory over Nazism. And we will not give anyone a single piece of our history,” he said. “Our enemy dreamed that we would refuse to celebrate May 9 and the victory over Nazism, so that that word ‘de-Nazification’ gets a chance. Millions of Ukrainians fought Nazism.”
Marking Victory Day for Ukraine, President Zelensky vowed that his country would emerge victorious from its war. “The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win,” he said pic.twitter.com/SWHmJ5drJg
— The Times (@thetimes) May 9, 2022
Zelensky argued that it is Putin who is emulating the Nazi invaders from 80 years ago.
“The one who is repeating the horrific crimes of Hitler’s regime today — following Nazi philosophy, copying everything he did — he is doomed,” he said. “We won then. We will win now. Very soon, there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine.”
Putin, unsurprisingly, took a different approach. While Zelensky’s Victory Day speech sought to provide a spirited defense of his country, Putin’s speech justified the war. Zelensky spoke via a highly produced video, straight to the camera amid uplifting music; Putin gave a relatively somber address to Moscow’s Red Square, before a massive military parade.
Like Zelensky, the Russian leader compared the current conflict to the World War II effort to expel Nazi Germany’s invading armies.
“Defending the motherland when its fate is being decided has always been sacred,” he said. “Today you are fighting for our people in Donbas, for the security of Russia, our homeland.”
Though many observers feared that Putin would use the day of Russian military nationalism to escalate the attacks against Ukraine, he did not announce any new offensives.
Instead, he painted his war against Ukraine as inevitable. In his speech, Putin claimed that the Kremlin had proposed a treaty to NATO last year that would guarantee Russia’s security. “But that was in vain,” he said, according to a translator on CNN.
“The NATO countries did not want to hear us. And that means in fact that they had very different plans, and we could see that. They openly were preparing for yet another punitive operation in Donbas for an invasion of our historic lands in Crimea,” he said. Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, annexing the peninsula for itself. At the same time, Moscow backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region, largely controlling the territory as a result.
The Kremlin leader went on to say that NATO had been “actively developing” countries that border Russia, and that such an expansion of the Western military alliance was an “absolutely unacceptable threat.”
Putin’s 11-minute address included a minute of silence. “The death of each one of our soldiers and officers is our shared grief and an irreparable loss for their friends and relatives,” he said.
According to Russia’s state-run media outlet Tass, parades will take place in 28 cities across the nation, with 65,000 people taking part, and will include 2,400 military vehicles.