On this day of commemoration of the shared triumph, Ukrainians now look on Moscow with dread

A local resident looks at a shell crater near an apartment building, which was destroyed in a Russian bombardment in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.ALEXANDRE ERMOCHENKO/Reuters

For decades, May 9 has been a day of solidarity and shared triumph for Russia, Ukraine and the other countries that once made up the Soviet Union. But this year, Ukrainians will see how Moscow marks Victory Day with dread.

With Russia’s 10-week-old invasion of Ukraine largely frustrated by poor planning and fierce resistance, there are fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use his annual speech in Moscow’s Red Square – where he will address the soldiers and veterans gathered to mark the anniversary. of the defeat of Nazi Germany – to announce a kind of new escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.

The annual military parade in Red Square usually includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, a display of nuclear might that will be particularly menacing at a time when tensions between Russia and the West are at their highest since the Cuban Missile Crisis he 50 years ago.

Sergey Utkin, head of strategic assessment at the Moscow-based Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said he expected the Kremlin to use May 9 to link the triumph of World War II over the Nazis – which claimed the lives of 24 million Soviets – to the current conflict. Moscow claims to be fighting “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine, although far-right groups have little influence in the country and Mr Zelensky himself is Jewish.

While Mr Utkin predicted Mr Putin would not make any major announcements that would overshadow a hallowed day for many Russians, British and US officials said they believed Mr Putin could use VE Day to declare officially the war in Ukraine. The Kremlin has so far insisted it was only carrying out a “special military operation” against its neighbour. Ordering total mobilization could result in hundreds of thousands of Russians being called up for military service.

Russian servicemen drive a tank down a Moscow street, during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade.EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/Reuters

There are also widespread fears that Monday will see a wave of missile strikes, or even the use of banned weapons of mass destruction (WMD), on targets around Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the predictions “nonsense”.

Either general mobilization or the use of banned weapons would highlight how well the Russian military has done so far. A war that many predicted Russia would win in days now looks likely to drag on for months, at least. Russia has already been forced to abandon an initial attempt to capture kyiv in order to concentrate its forces in eastern and southern Ukraine.

“Ukraine seems to be ready for anything,” said Volodymyr Dubovyk, professor of international relations at the Odesa Mechnikov National University, which has been closed since the invasion began on February 24. martial law, it will be more difficult for us, of course. But then most experts think they wouldn’t be able to bring in reinforcements or bring them in quickly at all. Either way, the flow of arms to Ukraine should continue. This seems like a critical moment. ADM usage on their part would be awful, of course, if it came down to that.

In addition to the parade in Moscow, there are signs the Kremlin may be planning some sort of May 9 celebration in the shattered Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which is largely under Russian control. Vladimir Solovyov, a top host on Russian state television, and Sergei Kiriyenko, one of Mr Putin’s top aides, have both visited Mariupol in recent days, and Ukrainian intelligence said Russian troops were clearing dead bodies and rubble from the streets last week, possibly in preparation for a May 9 parade in the city.

But even in Mariupol, where more than 20,000 people have reportedly been killed since the start of the war, Russia has not been able to fully fulfill its military objectives. A unit of Ukrainian fighters has been holed up in the vast Azovstal steelworks for weeks, defying Russia’s attempts to declare even a limited victory on May 9.

A protester holds a poster during an anti-war demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Tbilisi, Georgia, a day before Russia celebrates Victory Day.Shakh Aivazov/Associated Press

“The Russians are desperately trying to score goals, goals to celebrate this day, but they won’t succeed,” Illia Samoilenko, a lieutenant in the Azov battalion that still defends the plant, told a press conference on Sunday. streamed online from somewhere. in the tunnels under the Azovstal plant.

Lt. Samoilenko criticized the Ukrainian government and military for not doing more to rescue trapped defenders from the steel plant – which he said included hundreds of wounded fighters – but said his unit would continue to fight. “No one expected us to hold on for so long, but against all odds and despite everything, we’re still holding on, we’re still holding on.”

Lt. Samoilenko questioned the Ukrainian government’s claim that all civilians had been evacuated from Azovstal, saying it was even impossible for him to know how many people were still trapped in other parts of the plant.

On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released a video in which he said the world had failed to honor the “never again” vow made at the end of World War II.

“Darkness has returned to Ukraine decades after World War II. … Evil has returned,” Mr. Zelensky said, standing in front of a destroyed building in the town of Borodyanka, outside Kyiv, where hundreds of people were killed during a month of Russian occupation at the start of the war “In a different form, under different slogans, but for the same purpose.”

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