Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a short but defiant speech at a Victory Day parade in which he neither declared war on Ukraine nor claimed victory in his 74-day-old “special operation.”
The celebration was a typical show of Russia’s military might, which has been put to the test in Ukraine. A flyover fighter jet accompaniment was canceled due to what the Kremlin called “bad weather”—but what in reality appeared to show itself as sunny skies with light winds.
Russians hoping to catch their leader on state television were instead greeted with the replacement of every single program with a rare message of truth: “On your hands is the blood of thousands of Ukrainians and their hundreds of murdered children. TV and the authorities are lying. No to war.” The hack—reported by BBC and other media—was quickly remedied, but undoubtedly dampened the spirits of Putin supporters hoping to keep quell the reality of the bloodshed.
British defense analyst Nicholas Drummond called the affair “low key,” telling CNN that it seemed that Putin used it mostly to show he still had solid support among those in his inner circle. “But there was a discipline and precision about it that was absent last time,” he said. “Look of steely resolve on many faces. Suggests that Putin has consolidated his power base rather than being weakened by recent events.”
Many of his pronouncements, including that NATO had “surrounded” Russia and was planning to invade the “motherland,” were not only falsehoods but farcical. “President Putin has made a number of fairytale claims for months and years now... If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be amusing, but it isn’t,” U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said, according to the BBC. “One of his claims is that he is surrounded. NATO accounts for 6 percent of his land border. That’s not being surrounded if only 6 percent of your land border is NATO countries.”
Wallace said the speech also gave a window into the Russian president as a weakened leader. “I think he is believing what he wants to believe,” he said. “A slight shine of desperation. But let me put on the record categorically: NATO, Britain, Eastern Europe is not planning to invade Russia and never has done.”
Russian state media also sent out propaganda videos purporting to show celebrations in occupied cities in Ukraine. In one that showed Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia, which is under Russian control, hundreds of people are seen applauding a parade held there. Other social media posts showed less well-attended gatherings and rallies.
In Mariupol, now under Russian control, mayoral assistant Petro Andriushchenko said no parade was held but that Russian soldiers lit an eternal flame on a war memorial with a torch that had been ferried in from Moscow.
“The grotesque combination of the traditions of the Olympics and the Ascension of the Blessed Fire at Easter is the best demonstration of the essence of Victory Day for Russians,” Andriushchenko wrote on Telegram. “The occupiers celebrate Victory Day on the bones of Mariupol residents.”
As the muted celebration wrapped up in Red Square, hundreds of miles away, missiles struck the former resort town of Odessa—a clear sign that there is no end in sight to Putin’s wrath.