Putin’s WWII Commemoration: War Rhetoric and Russian Resilience

Putin’s Victory Day Parade: A Display of Power and Defiance

As snow fell on Red Square, the familiar thunder of ballistic missiles and fighter jets echoed through the air. Rows of foreign dignitaries looked on with impassive faces. This was Russia’s annual commemoration of World War II’s end, a ceremony cherished by millions and a reflection of President Vladimir V. Putin’s efforts to project normalcy amidst a distant, prolonged war.

Putin’s Euphemism for the Ukraine War

Last year, during the Victory Day celebration, Putin acknowledged Russia’s struggle on the battlefield and declared the country was engaged in a “real war” for survival. He accused Western elites of seeking the “disintegration and annihilation of Russia”. However, at this year’s event, Putin only once referred to the ongoing war in Ukraine, referring to it using his initial euphemism, the “special military operation”.

Focusing on WWII Sacrifices Over Modern Adversaries

On this significant secular holiday, Putin dedicated more time to the sacrifices made by Soviet citizens in World War II than to criticizing modern adversaries. However, he did not completely ignore those adversaries, reviving familiar criticisms and grievances. He accused the West of “hypocrisy and lies”, and of sparking more regional conflicts through “revanchism, abuse of history, and attempts to excuse modern heirs of the Nazis”.

Underlining Russia’s Clout

The foreign heads of state attending the event this year included the presidents of Cuba, Laos, and Guinea-Bissau. This underlines Russia’s persistent influence among developing countries, despite Western attempts to diplomatically isolate Putin. Putin’s closest foreign ally, President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, also attended, bringing his dog, Umka, with him to the front row of the parade stand.

Russia’s Recovery and Combat Readiness

Over the past year, Russia has managed to stabilize its economy, expand its military production, and organize a steady flow of new recruits. This has allowed Russia to regain the initiative on the battlefield after a disastrous first year of full-scale war in Ukraine. Putin emphasized that Russia will do everything to avoid a global conflict, but will not allow anyone to threaten it, asserting that their strategic forces are “always in combat readiness”.

Victory Day: A Day of National Pride and Defiance

The Victory Day parade is a highly patriotic event, with spectators expressing their unwavering support for the Russian Army, the president, and the memory of their fallen ancestors. It is also a day of defiance, reflecting Russia’s combative stance against the West. As Russia’s historical memory of World War II changes, the contribution of allies like the United States and Britain is minimized, emphasizing the victory of the Soviet people.

Contrasting Commemorations in Ukraine

While Putin uses the symbolism of World War II to justify his aggression, Ukraine, which suffered millions of casualties during the Nazi invasion, commemorates Victory Day in a starkly different manner. Last year, Ukraine officially moved its World War II commemoration to May 8, a day earlier, to distance itself from Russia and align closer to Europe. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, used the memory of World War II to portray the invading Russian Army as modern-day Nazis.

As the world watches these contrasting displays of power, memory, and defiance, it is clear that history, as ever, is being used as a tool in the ongoing geopolitical struggle. The future of this region, and the narratives that shape it, will depend on the decisions made in the hallowed halls of power on both sides.