President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow’s military action in Ukraine is a timely and necessary response to Western policies.
In a speech marking Russia’s Victory Day, President Putin told a huge military parade in Moscow’s Red Square that Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are “defending the motherland”.
He said the invasion of Ukraine, which he called a “special military operation”, had been provoked by the West and was a necessary move to ward off potential aggression.
The Russian leader said troops are fighting for the country’s security in Ukraine and accused the West of “preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea”, an area of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia in 2014.
He attempted to justify the war on Ukraine by saying Russia’s attack was a “preemptive strike on the aggressor”, claiming that Nato and Ukraine were creating threats “unacceptable to us” on Russia’s borders.
However, much of the world, and international bodies such as the United Nations, consider Russia to be the aggressor and Moscow’s operation in Ukraine as an illegal invasion.
What did Vladimir Putin say?
Speaking at a military parade commeorating the Soviet Victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, President Putin drew parallels between the Red Army’s fighting against Nazi troops and ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
In his speech, he said: “Our duty is to preserve the memory of those who defeated Nazism. Who gave us what they have to be alert, to make sure that the horror of a global war will never be repeated. And that’s why despite all the differences in international relations, Russia has always been for the creation of security, equal and reliable security that’s needed by the whole community.
“In December last year, we proposed to make a treaty. Non security guarantees Russia called for a search for a compromise solution that was in vain need the country for the world to hear us and this means that in reality, they had quite different plans. And we saw that they were openly preparing another punitive operation in the past.
“So an aggression against our historical lands, including Crimea, calls in key about the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons, the NATO alliance began to move troops into our neighbouring territories and they were creating an unacceptable threat to us right across borders… The danger grew every day. And Russia delivered a preemptive strike against the aggressor that was a forced timely and the only correct decision. The decision of a sovereign, strong and independent country.”
President Putin did not take the opportunity to officially declare war on Ukraine or a full mobilisation of the Russian military.
Instead, he closed his speech with a rallying cry to the assembled soldiers in Red Square, saying: “Those who defeated Nazism during the Great Patriotic War showed us an example of heroism for all times. This is the generation of victims and you will always take the example of glory to our glorious armed forces.
“For Russia, for victory, hooray.”
What is Victory Day?
Victory Day is an annual commemoration in Russia to celebrate the Soviet Victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
It is Russia’s most important holiday and is marked by a huge parade of soldiers and military hardware through Red Square.
The parade comes just two days after Russian troops bombed a village school in eastern Ukraine, which killed around 60 people. The governor of the Luhansk region said about 90 people were sheltering at the school in Bilohorivka on Saturday (7 May) when it was bombed.
Russian forces have pushed forward in their assault on Ukraine, with the war now in its 11th week, seeking to capture the crucial southern port city of Mariupol
President Putin has been hoping for some form of victory in Ukraine in the build-up to Victory Day, with troops rushing to take Mariupol’s Azovstal steel mill.
The mill is the last holdout of Ukrainian resistance in the country and an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were making what appeared to be their last stand to save Mariupol from falling.
It is the only part of the city not overtaken by the invaders and its defeat would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allowing Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukrainian fighters in the steel mill have rejected deadlines set by the Russians for laying down their arms even as attacks continued by warplanes, artillery and tanks.