Putin delivers defiant speech, but stops short of escalation
By Anton Troianovski and Dan Bilefsky
President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Monday hailed his country’s army for “fighting for the motherland,” delivering a defiant speech at the annual Victory Day commemorations in Moscow that falsely depicted his invasion of Ukraine as an extension of the struggle against Nazism in Europe.
But despite the rhetorical bombast and military pageantry of the day, which celebrates the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany, Putin’s speech was conspicuous for what it left out: There was no claim of victory, no call for a new mobilization of Russians for a wider conflict, no threat of a nuclear strike and no stark pronouncement about Russia being locked in an existential war with the West.
The address was carefully calibrated and appeared aimed at a domestic audience, as Putin sought to channel Russian pride in defeating Nazi Germany into support for his invasion of Ukraine. But while some Western officials had predicted Putin would seize on the holiday to double down on the war, instead his words appeared to underline his cautiousness about demanding too much from regular Russians in a country buffeted by internal divisions.
He insisted again that Russia had been forced into the war and made a rare acknowledgment of the toll of the fighting, promising that his government would do “everything to care for” the families of dead soldiers.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine rebutted Putin’s reading of history, saying in a speech released Monday that the Russian leader’s war was “repeating the horrific crimes of Hitler’s regime today.” He said only “a madman” would follow the path of the fascists who started World War II.
In other developments:
— President Joe Biden on Monday signed an updated version of the Lend-Lease Act that supplied Britain and other allies during World War II, paving the way for further arms shipments to Ukraine.
— Ukraine marked the May 9 holidaysomberly, skipping the usual wreath-laying ceremonies, concerts and picnics, many of which were canceled under martial law. At commemorations in Warsaw, Poland, protesters doused Russia’s ambassador to Poland in red liquid.
— President Emmanuel Macron of France on Monday called for a “stronger and more sovereign” Europe, even as he dashed Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union anytime soon.
— The Ukrainian military has waged a fierce counteroffensive in the east, forcing Russian forces to redeploy to the area around the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
— In the territories that Russian forces have seized in southern Ukraine, they are replacing road signs, routing the internet through Russian servers and stepping up security, as Moscow intensifies efforts to bring the occupied areas under its control.