Russia’s VE Day has been transformed under the rule of President Vladimir Putin.
Increasingly militarizing the memorial holiday, with more advanced military hardware presented and political twists added, Vladimir Putin and his choreographers militarized the memory of the Great Patriotic War. Using mass sacrifice in wartime as a cultural reference point to blame the West for its lack of respect: he constantly complained about the failure of Western historians and leaders to recognize the overwhelming importance of the role of the Union in the defeat of Nazi Germany – evidence of their underlying aim to debase Russia.
So what’s Putin going to pull out of his hat this Monday, as Russia celebrates its victory over the Nazis while stuck in the middle of a conflict the Kremlin claims (absurdly) is waging to de-Nazify the Nazis? ukraine?
Will he officially declare war, abandoning the pretext that Russia has just been engaged in a “special military mission” across the border? Or would it risk causing too abrupt a shift in the narrative, signaling to ordinary Russians that the invasion has gone seriously wrong?
Could he use the occasion to announce a full-scale mobilization or a call for reservists to replenish the depleted ranks of his struggling invasion force? And how would that be acceptable to the mothers of Russian soldiers, who have already been a thorn in the side of the authorities and have already demanded transparent casualty figures from an unwilling Kremlin? Western officials estimate Russia’s death toll could already be 20,000 to 5,000 more war dead than its armed forces have suffered in Afghanistan in 10 years.
Victory Day is meant to be uplifting and positive in nature – a patriotic occasion to project invincibility and confidence, a play to highlight Russia’s importance as a world power, not a day to admit setbacks . But for Putin, there are few good options.
One thing he could do was take the opportunity to brag about small “triumphs” – the sack of Mariupol or the capture of Kherson.
And that may be enough, thanks to the Kremlin’s propaganda grip on the country, which has partly returned to the dystopian era of Stalin, with a brutal crackdown on dissent and the forced closure of the few remaining sources of information. and independent commentary.
Ukrainians now frequently complain that it is impossible for them to convince their relatives in Russia of the horrors inflicted there – state propaganda works. Most Russians get their news from state-controlled TV stations, and if TV says the country’s military is successful, then why not believe those claims? The added economic hardship is only the price to pay to protect Mother Russia from her enemies, after all. And Western sanctions have yet to impact most Russian lives beyond the wealthy in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
But given Putin’s obsession with birthdays, most seasoned observers suspect the Russian leader will want to mark Monday with an even bigger splash.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace risked that Putin would use May 9 to declare: “We are now at war with the Nazis of the world and we must mobilize the Russian people en masse. Wallace added in a radio interview in London that Putin “rolled the ground, preparing the ground to be able to say, ‘Listen, this is now a war against the Nazis, and what I need is is more people “.”
Ukraine’s intelligence and security chiefs have also suggested the Kremlin may be preparing for a broader mobilization, which the Kremlin has denied. In kyiv, a think tank has suggested that Russian authorities may even parade captured Ukrainians – Putin copying Joseph Stalin, who in July 1944 infuriated Adolf Hitler by parading around 57,000 German POWs through the Russian capital.
Western diplomats find this scenario unlikely, describing it as too macabre and unnecessarily provocative, although caution and caution have not been notable features of the Kremlin recently. This week, Sergei Lavrov, the normally more self-assured longtime foreign minister, wantonly offended Israel – which has tried to maintain cordial relations with Moscow – by claiming that Hitler had “Jewish blood”.
But Russian state television has hinted that something big could happen, as star presenters have become alarmingly even more belligerent towards NATO, increasingly casting the Ukraine clash in terms struggle between Russia and the Western alliance.
The earthy rhetoric of recent days has included terrifying nonchalance about the risks of a nuclear swap, with Kremlin-run RT media chief Margarita Simonyan saying on a show last week that she would be willing to accept that Putin is starting a nuclear war. with NATO.
“The most incredible outcome, that it all ends in a nuclear strike, seems to me more likely than the other course of events,” she said. “We’ll go to heaven and they’ll just croak,” the show host quipped, quoting an old Putin comment. “We will all die one day anyway,” Simonyan replied.
Similarly, another prominent host, Olga Skabeyeva, who presents Rossiya 1’s ’60 Minutes’ program, recently said, “God is with us. And with Ukraine — the devil. When the danger of a nuclear exchange was raised, she simply said, “We’re going to start from scratch.
Of course, Russian state television’s emphasis on the likelihood of full-scale global war may simply be daunting, designed to give the West “food for thought”, as Putin commented in observing the launch of Russia’s latest ultra-advanced ballistic missile. But as Russians are told hour by hour, day by day that they face an existential threat, the Kremlin could finally stage something that matches what Putin’s spokespeople are saying.
The rise of anti-NATO rhetoric has already coincided with an increase in missile strikes on weapons depots and routes of Western-supplied weapons inside Ukraine – an attempt to interdict Western equipment making a big difference on the battlefield and bogging down the Russian Army.
A bold declaration of war would be an inside gamble for Putin, tying his political fate even more closely to the outcome in Ukraine, and he has already taken huge risks in pursuit of his goal of redressing the indignity – as he sees – of the collapse of the Soviet Union. There are indications, however, that he is under increasing pressure from some of the securocrats around him – pressure to go further and harder.