President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Russian forces in Ukraine were fighting to defend the motherland from an “absolutely unacceptable threat,” evoking the “hangmen, executioners and the Nazis” of World War II.
The Russian president made the comments in a speech to thousands of soldiers as he opened the annual parade marking victory over Nazi Germany. According to the Reuters news agency, he did not mention Ukraine by name in the speech.
“You are fighting for the motherland, so that no one will forget the lessons of World War II and there will be no place in the world for hangmen, executioners and the Nazis,” he said.
Putin additionally claimed Kyiv and its allies had been preparing “an invasion of our historical lands” including in the Russian-speaking Donbas region and in Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014.
“An absolutely unacceptable threat to us was being created, directly on our borders,” Putin said, pointing to NATO weapon deliveries to Ukraine and the deployment of foreign advisers.
Ukraine was invaded by Russia in late February, with Moscow claiming its operation was in part to “de-Nazify” the country, despite the fact that it is a country led by a Jewish president.
Russia had no choice, Putin said, but to undertake a preemptive response to aggression, calling it “the only right decision” for a “sovereign, strong and independent country.”
Putin told thousands of troops gathered in Moscow’s Red Square that Russian forces in Ukraine were continuing the battle against Nazism, but that it was important “to do everything so that the horror of a global war does not happen again.”
Putin made no major announcements in the speech, despite reports in the West that he could use the anniversary to announce an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine or a general mobilization in Russia.
Instead, Putin looked to rally public support for the campaign by linking the current conflict to what Russians call the Great Patriotic War.
Putin claimed that Russian troops were fighting for the country’s security in Ukraine and observed a minute of silence to honor the troops who fell in combat. He said that the state would care for the children of the soldiers killed.
Russia was marking the 77th anniversary of its defeat of Nazi Germany with parades and marches, including the main celebration in Red Square, featuring some 11,000 troops and more than 130 military vehicles.
As Putin spoke, Russian forces pushed forward in their assault on Ukraine, seeking to capture the crucial southern port city of Mariupol as Moscow celebrated its Victory Day holiday.
Determined to show success in a war now in its 11th week, Russian troops pummeled a seaside steel mill where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are making their last stand in the port city of Mariupol.
The mill is the only part of the city not overtaken by the invaders. Its defeat would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
The Ukrainian military’s General Staff warned of a high probability of missile strikes and said that Russian troops were seizing “personal documents from the local population without good reason” in Russian-controlled areas of Zaporizhzhia — the city where many fleeing Mariupol have gathered.
The military alleged Russian troops were seizing documents to force residents to join in Victory Day commemorations.