Vladimir Putin says Russian army 'always ready' at World War II Victory Day parade

Putin has used the celebration to showcase his stranglehold on Russian politics and perhaps more importantly, his justification for the war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his armed forces have always been "ready" to fight external threats as he addressed Moscow during the nation's annual Victory Day celebrations.

The annual May procession celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, and features as a key part of Putin's calendar giving him a chance to rally public support and show off his country’s military power.

While there were fewer soldiers and military gear on display than last year's already subdued procession, this years Victory Day comes with Russia making frontline advances in Ukraine.

Thursday's festivities across Russia come as Putin begins his fifth term in office, after already sitting at the top of Russian politics for almost 25 years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sits during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia. Credit: AP

“The Victory Day unites all generations,” Putin said in a speech at Red Square parade.

“We are going forward relying on our centuries-old traditions and feel confident that together we will ensure a free and secure future of Russia."

He hailed the troops fighting in Ukraine for their courage and blasted the West, accusing it of “fuelling regional conflicts, inter-ethnic and inter-religious strife and trying to contain sovereign and independent centres of global development”.

Amid Russia-West tensions that soared to the highest level since the Cold War times over Ukraine, Putin also issued another stark reminder about Russia's nuclear might.

Russian troops take to the streets of Moscow with a parade in Red Square to celebrate its 79th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany

“Russia will do everything in order to not let a global confrontation begin,” Putin said, adding: “But we will not let anyone threaten us, our strategic forces are always ready.

“Dear friends, Russia is going through a difficult period,” the Russian leader continued, saying the “fight of our motherland depends on every one of us."

“Today, on the Victory Day, we realise this even more so,” he concluded, ending his speech with a minute of silence.

About 9,000 troops, including some 1,000 who fought in Ukraine, took part in Thursday's parade.

Russia and World War II

The Soviet Union lost about 27 million people in the war, more than any other country during WWII, an estimate that many historians consider conservative.

Nazi troops overran much of the western Soviet Union when they invaded in June 1941, before being driven back all the way to Berlin.

The US, UK, France and other allies mark the end of the war in Europe on May 8.

Russian servicemen march during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow. Credit: AP

Since coming to power on the last day of 1999, Putin has made May 9 an important part of his political agenda, featuring displays of military might.

Columns of tanks and missiles roll across Red Square and squadrons of fighter jets roar overhead as medal-bedecked veterans join him to review the parade.

Putin, WWII and Ukraine: How do they piece together?

As part of his efforts to carve out a Soviet legacy and trample on any attempts to question it, Russia has introduced laws that criminalised the “rehabilitation of Nazism” that include punishing the “desecration” of memorials or challenging Kremlin versions of World War II history.

When he sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Putin evoked World War II in seeking to justify his actions that Kyiv and its Western allies denounced as an unprovoked war of aggression.

Putin cited the “denazification” of Ukraine as a main goal of Moscow, falsely describing the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust, as neo-Nazis.

Military cadets march during the Victory Day military parade at the Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia. Credit: AP

Many observers see Putin’s focus on World War II as part of his efforts to revive the USSR’s clout and prestige and his reliance on Soviet practices.

“It’s the continuous self-identification with the USSR as the victor of Nazism and the lack of any other strong legitimacy that forced the Kremlin to declare ‘denazification’ as the goal of the war,” Nikolay Epplee said in a commentary for Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre.

The Russian leadership, he said, has “locked itself up in a worldview limited by the Soviet past.”

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