Russians celebrate Victory Day as Putin blames west for war in Ukraine

Putin looks on during the Victory Day military parade marking the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II in Moscow
Putin looks on during the Victory Day military parade marking the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II in Moscow Credit: AP

Standing on Red Square, Vladimir Putin watched as his troops marched past him carrying the Russian flag and red hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.

In recent days his soldiers have been pictured hanging the Soviet flag in towns and on apartment blocks in Ukraine, including in Mariupol which has been under bombardment for months. 

With the war ongoing, today’s parade was smaller than previous years with some weapons either committed to the battlefield or lost on it.

For the first time in years, some parades in regional Russian cities had no weapons on display.

In Moscow, the air show was cancelled due to bad weather according to President Putin’s spokesperson.

 In spite of the cold, the streets of the capital were full of people waving Russian, Soviet and "victory" flags.

Many Russians, including children, wore the black and orange colours of the St George’s ribbon. The ribbon was previously associated with victory during the Second World War and is now a symbol of support for Vladimir Putin’s "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Parents hoisted children onto their shoulders, some wearing military caps, to watch as tanks and an intercontinental ballistic missile rolled down Moscow’s streets. 

Onlookers watch the Victory Day parade, including a small child clutching a flag Credit: ITV News

"I wanted to show my son the military equipment, so that he felt patriotic, even though he is still small," one woman told ITV News. 

Commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, the Russian president drew a direct line between the fight of the veterans who surrounded him as he stood on his tribune and that of the soldiers he has sent to fight in Ukraine.

"You fought the enemy in Moscow, Leningrad, Kyiv, Minsk, Stalingrad, Kursk, Sevastopol and Kharkiv," Putin said. "Now, as then, you are fighting for our people in the Donbas. For the security of our motherland, Russia."

Vladimir Putin has told Russians that his forces are fighting fascism in Ukraine and that, as the Soviets defended Russia, Russian soldiers are once again protecting their people from a Nazi threat.

"I am now addressing our armed forces and the militias of Donbas. You are fighting for your homeland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II, so that there is no place in the world for executioners and Nazis."

People gathered to celebrate Victory Day Credit: ITV News

On Moscow’s streets, which were decked out in flags, people appeared receptive to the message. 

"Unfortunately there is a very big link between then and now," one man told ITV News. 

"The Europeans and Americans support fascism and this is very bad and worrying."

"Nazism is cruel and not justified," another person said. 

The Soviet Union sustained the highest losses of any state at the hands of Hitler’s forces during the Second World War when approximately 27 million Soviets died, including Russians and Ukrainians.

Russia, Putin said, is a country where there is "not a family" who was not touched by the Second World War. The idea of fighting fascism in Ukraine is deeply potent in a country which is covered in war memorials and where the bodies of Soviet soldiers still lie in the battlefields where they fell. 

During that time, Russia, Europe and the United States fought together as allies but almost 80 years later that alliance has long since shattered. 

Western officials had indicated that they thought President Putin would use his speech on Victory Day to announce a full scale declaration of war against Ukraine. Instead Putin used it to announce financial support for the families of soldiers who have died and to blame the west for his invasion. He accused the "United States and its junior partners," of relying on "neo-Nazis" to achieve its goals in Ukraine.

NATO, Putin said, was openly, "preparing for a punitive operation in the Donbas, for an invasion into our historic lands, including Crimea."

Crimea was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014 in a move which was widely condemned as illegal.

"In Kyiv, they announced possibly acquiring nuclear weapons. NATO started active military development of the territories next to us. This was an absolutely unacceptable threat to us, directly on our borders," Putin said.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to President Zelensky slammed Putin’s speech, saying: "NATO countries were not going to attack Russia. Ukraine did not plan to attack Crimea. The Russian military is dying, not defending their country, but trying to occupy another. There were no rational reasons for this war other than sick imperial ambitions."

Elsewhere, in Poland, the Russian ambassador had red liquid thrown on him in protest as a crowd chanted "fascists".  

Since Putin launched his "special military operation", Russia’s Defence Ministry says 1,351 Russian soldiers have died fighting in Ukraine; a figure which has not been officially updated since March 25.

Alluding to those losses, which Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence says are higher than 25,000, Vladimir Putin said "we bow our heads before our comrades-in-arms, who died the death of the brave in the righteous battle for Russia."

It is a fight that many people on the streets of Moscow said they supported but hoped that would soon be over.

"We did it because we had no other choice," one man told ITV News. "But no one really wants a war."