ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — With no major breakthrough on the battlefield, Russian President Vladimir Putin marked his country’s biggest patriotic holiday without uttering the word “Ukraine” as the Kremlin’s army neared its latest offensive. There was little or no progress to show for it.
The Russian leader oversaw a Victory Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square on Monday, watching as soldiers marched in formation and military hardware rolled in celebration of the Soviet Union’s role in the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.
Many Western analysts expected Putin to use the holiday to trumpet some kind of victory in Ukraine or announce an escalation, but he did not. Instead, he sought to justify the war again as a necessary response, which he portrayed as a hostile Ukraine.
Putin said, ‘The danger was increasing day by day. “Russia has given a retrospective response to the aggression. It was a forced, timely and only correct decision.”
With the conflict during its 11th week, he clarified the specifics of the battlefield, failing to mention a potentially important battle for the important southern port of Mariupol.
Meanwhile, on land, intense fighting broke out in Ukraine’s east, the important Black Sea port of Odessa in the south came under repeated missile attacks, and Russian forces forced Ukrainian defenders to make their last stand at a steel plant in Mariupol. demanded.
Putin has long been engaged in NATO crawling eastwards in former Soviet republics. Ukraine and its Western allies have denied any threat to the country.
As he has done with everyone else, Putin falsely portrayed the fight as the fight against Nazism, leading many Russians to consider the war his finest hour: the victory over Hitler. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in what Russia refers to as the Great Patriotic War.
After unexpectedly fierce resistance forced the Kremlin to abandon its attempt to attack Kyiv a month earlier, Moscow’s forces have focused on capturing the Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial region.
But the fight there has been sloganeering village-by-village, and analysts suggested Putin may use his holiday speech to present the Russian people with victory amid discontent over the country’s heavy casualties and punitive effects. . Western restrictions.
Others suggested that he might declare war, and not just a “special military operation”, and a nationwide mobilization with a call-up of reserves, to replenish the ranks depleted for an extended conflict. can order.
In the end, he gave no indication of where the war was going or how he wanted to salvage it. In particular, he left unanswered the question of whether Russia would marshal more forces for continued warfare.
“Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia cannot fight a long war, and the clock is ticking on the failure of their military in Ukraine,” tweeted Phillips P O’Brien, Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of Scotland in St Andrews.
Former British ambassador to Belarus Nigel Gould Davies said: “Russia has not won this war. It is starting to lose it.”
He added that unless Russia has a major breakthrough, “the balance of benefits will shift sharply in Ukraine’s favor, especially as Ukraine has access to an increasing amount of increasingly sophisticated Western military equipment.”
Despite Russia’s crackdown on dissent, anti-war sentiment has prevailed. Dozens of protesters were detained across the country on Victory Day, and editors of pro-Kremlin media outlets revolted by briefly publishing a few dozen stories criticizing Putin and the invasion.
In Warsaw, anti-war protesters see Russia’s ambassador to Poland painted red as he arrives at a cemetery to pay respects to Red Army soldiers killed during World War II.
As Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, air raid sirens resounded again in the Ukrainian capital. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared in his own Victory Day address that his country would eventually defeat the Russians.
“Very soon Ukraine will have two Victory Days,” he said in a video. He added: “We are fighting for our children, for freedom, and so we will win.”
A Zelensky adviser interpreted Putin’s speech to indicate that Russia has no interest in pursuing war through the use of nuclear weapons or through direct engagement with NATO.
Speaking late Monday in an online interview, Oleksey Erestovich pointed to Putin’s statement that Russia would honor the memory of those who in World War II “did everything so that the horrors of global war would not happen again.”
Instead, he predicted that Russia would make “a sluggish effort” to take control of the Donbass, including Mariupol, and a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which the Kremlin seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Erestovich said Ukraine’s economy was bleeding for the purpose of agreeing to leave the region while Russia would drag the war.
According to a senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, Russia’s Ukraine has about 97 battalion tactical groups, largely to the east and south, a slight increase over the past week. Is. According to the Pentagon, there are about 1,000 soldiers in each unit.
Overall, Russian efforts in the Donbass have not achieved any significant progress in recent days and continue to face stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, the official said.
Russia is probably closest to victory in Mariupol. The US official said about 2,000 Russian forces were around Mariupol, and the city was being surrounded by air raids. More than 2,000 Ukrainian defenders are believed to have been at the steel plant, the city’s last stronghold of resistance.
The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbass and give the Kremlin a much-needed breakthrough.
Odessa has also been subjected to rapid bombings in recent days. The Ukrainian military said the Russian military fired seven missiles from the air in Odessa on Monday night, attacking a shopping center and a warehouse. The army said one person was killed and five were injured.
The war in a country long known as the “bread basket of Europe” has disrupted the global food supply.
“I saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export,” European Council President Charles Michel said in a tweet after his visit to Odessa. The war and the blockade of Black Sea ports have left badly needed food stranded, he said, with “dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries.”
Gambrel reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesika Fish in Bakhmut, David Keaton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C in Washington. Baldor and Associated Press employees around the world contributed to this report.
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