9 May: What was Putin's message?

President Vladimir Putin justified Russia's attack on Ukraine in his speech on 9 May, the day marking the Soviet Union's victory over Hitler's Germany in 1945. A war is being waged against his country, he declared to thousands of soldiers and veterans gathered on Moscow's Red Square. Commentators pick apart Putin's appearance and this year's much smaller parade.

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Obosrewatel (UA) /

Too many take the show at face value

For Obosrevatel, the military parade in Moscow is

“an appeal to past achievements, the narrative of a fortress besieged by enemies, an artificial bringing together of the population and adherence to values of the past by people who no longer have anything to do with that past. Real veterans (of whom doubtless none are still alive) are completely absent, and in their place we see a huge number of people in fancy dress. The victory parade is increasingly degenerating into a ritual show. The problem, however, is that the participants in this show are firmly convinced of its authenticity.”

Jurnalul National (RO) /

Ukraine just an episode

People in Romania listen to Putin differently than in countries that don't border on the war zone, writes Jurnalul National:

“Putin's very concise speech shows clearly that the fight against globalism goes beyond special operations. ... The West was called an enemy supplier of terrorism, and the fight in Ukraine just an episode. In Romania, the tensions are perceived very clearly, far more clearly than in Nato countries which are protected from the conflict by their geographical location. ... Now it's time to learn our lessons from history, which is unfortunately becoming more and more volatile. ... It is essential for Romania that the armed conflict in Ukraine calm down. Nato's involvement in the war would not be beneficial in any way.”

Webcafé (BG) /

Showing off rather than celebrating peace

Europe Day and Russia's Victory Day represent two diametrically opposite ways of looking at the same historical event, observes Webcafé:

“While the former celebrates peace in Europe and the healing of the continent's wounds after the end of the Second World War, the latter stands for a chauvinistic, hopelessly nostalgic waving of the fist. Victory over Nazi Germany was indeed something to celebrate. It signified the collapse of an inhumane regime that killed millions of people. The problem with Victory Day as propagated and celebrated by Russia is that Moscow is obsessed with the idea of its own greatness and that is all that counts for it.”

Novaya Gazeta Europe (RU) /

Squandering the USSR's moral capital

Putin has ruined Russia's moral reputation once and for all, Novaya Gazeta Europa comments:

“After the nightmare of Hitler's Nazism, with its desire for total domination of society and violence in the name of racial superiority, the West dreamed of a world order in which state suppression of civil liberties and the annihilation of entire peoples and social groups would be impossible. Even if the USSR did not share all of these values, it unequivocally condemned the Nazi cult of Aryan racial and historical exceptionalism. At the same time, victory established the Soviet Union as one of the 'great moral powers', a country that put an end to fascism. Putin has now completely squandered this moral capital.”

Aargauer Zeitung (CH) /

A message to the people

The Aargauer Zeitung has the following explanation for why the parade was so small this year:

“Obviously Putin was more focussed on sending a message to the Russian people this time than the usual 9th May spectacle performed as a show of force for the rest of the world. The message that was delivered to the people on Red Square goes as follows: The situation is serious: every man, every plane, every tank is needed on the front. This war will not last long, there will be no yielding, no compromise. All those, and particularly the urbanites in Moscow and St. Petersburg who pretend that the Ukraine war is far away and has nothing to do with them need to pull themselves together and rally behind the Russian flag right now.”

Pravda (SK) /

Orwell 2.0

Pravda comments on Putin's speech:

“Putin has just confirmed to us that in his Orwellian thinking, in which war is peace and lies are truth, that nothing has changed. He convinced the Russian people that what he wants is a peaceful future of freedom and stability, while the Russian army is showering Ukraine with another wave of 'peace doves'. At the same time he warned against aggressive nationalism and the ideology of superiority. In other words, the toxic elements of a totalitarian regime that he is cultivating at home. If there are still any doubters out there, they will surely be chilled by the gap between Putin's words and his deeds.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Climate of uncertainty

This was a muted Victory Day for the Kremlin leaders to put it mildly, Avvenire writes:

“The country celebrated the anniversary of its victory over Nazi fascism yesterday amid a climate of uncertainty and fear of new attacks. Even the Kremlin is aware that the war is not going to plan and that the Bakhmut front has become a bloodbath. Unlike at previous editions of the celebration, which were festive and imbued with nostalgia for the Soviet military power, the crowd yesterday in Moscow was pretty sparse. One of the main reasons was that the spectacular military parade that normally winds its way along the Tvertsa to Red Square was all but absent. Save for a lonely T-34, a Soviet-era tank, that rolled past the Kremlin.”

France Inter (FR) /

Zelensky stealing Putin's show

The Ukrainian president has rhetorically sidelined Putin, columnist Pierre Haski comments in France Inter:

“In glorifying the 'Great Patriotic War' Putin is looking for ways to stay on top of things by labelling the West the enemy - instead of the Nazis of yesteryear. But in the battle of symbols it was Volodymyr Zelensky who fired the first shot when he declared yesterday that the Russians would be pushed back from Ukraine 'like the Nazis in 1945'. That takes the cake: Vladimir Putin was robbed of his own discourse.”

La Stampa (IT) /

The smell of mould

Commenting on the Red Square celebrations, La Stampa remarks:

“Anniveraries and public celebrations have their own peculiar smell. ... A year after the start of the aggression against Ukraine it smells of mould, cobwebs, resignation, impotence. ... The smell of regimes at the mercy of decadence yet unable to eradicate it. On Red Square, the only memory bathed in a fateful aura seems to be the mummy of Lenin. The parade is a shop window selling new things that look like antiques but which you can't buy anyway because the prices are too high. ... Something that has succumbed to the plague of oblivion which already clings to it. For authoritarian regimes, this is worse than suffering a military or diplomatic defeat.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Looking up with fear

The Victory Day Parade in Moscow is accompanied by a certain nervousness this year, Gazeta Wyborcza writes:

“Ever new diversionary manoeuvres in the run-up to the Ukrainian counter-offensive are causing unease in Russia. ... After the drone attack on the Kremlin Senate dome on Wednesday, both the 'commander-in-chief' and the participants and guests at the parade will find it hard to not keep looking up to check that more flying machines are not whirring over Moscow.”

Le Monde (FR) /

A glorious past instead of a bright future

Putin is exploiting Victory Day in his usual way, comments Russia correspondent Benoît Vitkine in Le Monde:

“His approach is reminiscent of how the Soviet Union decided to turn the world war into a founding myth. The first military parade to celebrate the Germans' capitulation did not take place until 1965 - in a period of stagnation for the USSR, when its leaders realised that it would be easier to offer the people a glorious past than a bright future. ”

Arkady Dubnov (RU) /

Moscow's invitation is their command

The fact that the heads of state of four Central Asian republics and Armenia have travelled to Moscow for the celebrations speaks volumes about the balance of power, foreign policy expert Arkady Dubnov notes in a Facebook post:

“In the current situation in which the Russian president is a pariah in the West, he desperately needs the support of partners from the post-Soviet countries. ... Whether the presence of certain CIS presidents at the parade represents their support for Russia's actions in Ukraine is another matter. ... As it turns out, Russian invitations to Moscow are still not the kind that its closest partners can refuse. Despite the serious weakening of its global position since 24 February 2022, Russia still remains the metropolis of the former empire.”

Õhtuleht (EE) /

A symbol of solitude instead of unity

Political scientist Karmo Tüür explains in Õhtuleht:

“In the Soviet version of history, the Russians were allied with both the Poles and the Ukrainians. In today's Russian worldview there is no one scarier than these Ukrainian neo-Nazis and their Polish puppet masters, not to mention the Anglo-Saxons. But the height of paranoia is the cancellation of the Immortal Regiment march [nationwide commemorative marches for the fallen soldiers of the Red Army] for fear of inappropriate posters and questions. And so 9 May, Victory Day, once a symbol of unity, has become a day of misery and solitude.”