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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

West warily looks ahead to Russia’s Victory Day holiday; EU proposes Russian oil ban

Smoke rising from the site of a Russian rocket strike in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, on Wednesday.

By Dan Bilefsky and Anton Troianovski

As Moscow’s grinding offensive in Ukraine struggles to make gains, Western officials are looking ahead to Russia’s Victory Day holiday on Monday — a grandiose celebration of Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany — amid concerns that President Vladimir Putin could use the event to whip up support to expand the scope of the conflict.

The holiday marks Russia’s defeat over the Nazis in 1945 and is celebrated across the country but particularly in Moscow, where Putin traditionally presides over a huge military parade and gives a nationalistic speech. This year, anxiety is growing that he could lash out at Ukraine and its Western supporters, in an effort to prepare Russian society for an intensified war.

In a sign of those concerns, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace predicted last week that Putin’s speech would redefine what he has called a “special military operation” into an all-out war, calling for a mass mobilization of the Russian people.

Such a declaration would present a new challenge to Ukraine, Washington and its NATO allies as they stand up to Russian aggression. But it would allow Putin to try to change the narrative of a war in which Moscow has been denied the swift victory it had anticipated, including its initial goal of decapitating the government in Kyiv.

The Kremlin on Wednesday denied that Putin would declare war Monday, and Russian analysts noted that announcing a military draft could provoke a domestic backlash.

With no end to the conflict in sight, the European Union took a major step Wednesday toward weakening Putin’s ability to finance the war, proposing a total embargo on Russian oil. If approved this week as expected, it would be the bloc’s biggest and costliest step yet toward supporting Ukraine and ending its own dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

In other developments:

— At least 21 people were killed in attacks in the eastern region of Donetsk on Tuesday, officials said, while missiles struck power substations more than 600 miles away in Lviv, knocking out electricity Tuesday night in the western city.

— President Joe Biden visited a Lockheed Martin factory in Alabama that manufactures Javelin missiles used by Ukraine, telling workers there Tuesday that they were empowering Ukrainians to defend themselves in a battle “between autocracy and democracy.”

— Germany plans to offer visas and job opportunities to Russians seeking to get away from Putin’s government, the German economy minister said, describing measures similar to those Berlin has laid out for Ukrainian refugees.

— The State Department said it had determined the WNBA star Brittney Griner had been “wrongfully detained” in Russia, two months after she was taken into custody and accused of having drugs in her luggage.

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