Vladimir Putin claims Western aggression forced Moscow to invade Ukraine in Victory Day speech

History, too, is a weapon in this conflict, as Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the West for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and drawn parallels with the Red Army’s fight against Nazi troops in the Second World War and Russia's military action in Ukraine.

Speaking at a military parade on Monday marking victory over Germany in 1945, Mr Putin slammed NATO and the West, blaming them in unfounded claims for deploying troops and weaponry to Ukraine, and declaring Moscow's invasion was a preemptive move to ward off aggression.

He justified what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” as “the forced, timely and only correct decision" in order to defend Russia’s sovereignty. Drawing a link with Russia's fight against fascism 77 years ago and its invasion of Ukraine, Putin praised the country's soldiers, declaring "the death of every soldier and officer is a tragedy to us".

Troops in Red Square to mark the defeat of the Nazis in the second world war. Credit: AP

He claimed the Russian army is "fighting in their own land," and is defending "peaceful citizens" in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Mr Putin said that just as previous generations "fought the enemy in Moscow, Kyiv… and Kharkiv" now Russian soldiers were "fighting for our people in Donbas, for the security of our motherland, Russia".

In a video message posted on his official Telegram channel commemorating victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said "we will not give anyone a single piece of our history", adding: "We won then, we will win now too".

"Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine. And someone will not have even one left," he said.

The Soviet flag on parade. Credit: AP

There had been fears Putin would use his speech at the parade to declare the conflict in Ukraine all-out war, but these proved unfounded. He did not declare even a limited victory or signal where the conflict was headed as the war stretched into its third month.

The flag of the Soviet Union was marched past Mr Putin during the Victory Day parade. The president laments the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and believes the invasion of Ukraine is part of his mission to right the wrongs caused by the end of the regime.

Tanks, armoured personnel carriers and transports carrying huge intercontinental ballistic missiles paraded past the president and crowds that had gathered in Red Square as part of the patriotic national holiday that celebrates the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany.

Putin has previously said his invasion of Russia's neighbour was aimed at the “demilitarisation” of Ukraine to remove a perceived military threat to Russia by “neo-Nazis.”

In his video message to mark the day, Mr Zelenskyy said: "We are proud of our ancestors who together with other nations in the anti-Hitler coalition defeated Nazism. We will not allow anyone to annex this victory, we will not allow it to be appropriated.

Russian military vehicles roll during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow. Credit: AP

"Our enemy dreamed that we would refuse to celebrate May 9 and the victory over Nazism. So the word 'denazification' gets a chance."

Russian forces pushed forward in their assault on Ukraine, seeking to capture the crucial southern port city of Mariupol as Moscow celebrated the Victory Day holiday. The last civilians sheltering in the bunkers beneath the steel mill in the decimated Ukrainian port arrived late on Sunday night in Zaporizhzhia, the first major Ukrainian city beyond the frontline.

It is thought around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remain holed-up in the Azovstal plant, the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol.

Dozens of people were feared dead after a Russian bomb destroyed a school in Ukraine's Donbas region over the weekend. The governor of Luhansk province said the school in the village of Bilohorivka had caught fire after the bombing on Saturday. Emergency crews found two bodies and rescued 30 people, he said.