KYIV: Russia fired cruise missiles at Kyiv on Tuesday and paraded troops across Moscow’s Red Square for its annual celebration of victory in World War Two, pared back amid shortages of manpower and arms at the front after a failed winter campaign in Ukraine.
In a fiery 10-minute speech in front of the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin thundered against “Western global elites” and said civilisation was at “a decisive turning point”.
“A real war has been unleashed against our homeland,” said the Russian leader, who last year ordered what the West calls an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, destroying cities and killing thousands of civilians.
Underlining how the war has isolated Russia from most of Europe and pushed Ukraine closer to the West, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was visiting Kyiv, where she called Ukraine “the beating heart of today’s European values”.
The holiday commemorating the Soviet victory in World War Two is the most important day in the calendar in Russia under Putin, who casts his invasion of Ukraine as analogous to Russia’s fight against the Nazis. Ukraine, which suffered proportionally greater losses than Russia in World War Two, calls that an abuse of shared history to justify aggression.
The parade was full of traditional pomp but unmistakably scaled down from previous years. In place of phalanxes of modern battle tanks, a single World War Two-vintage T-34 rolled across Red Square. The usual fighter jet flyover was cancelled.
Putin’s message was also undermined by a new profanity-laced tirade from the boss of Russia’s Wagner private army directed at Moscow’s generals for failing to give his forces enough weapons.
“A combat order came yesterday which clearly stated that if we leave our positions (in Bakhmut), it will be regarded as treason against the motherland,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio message. “(But) if there is no ammunition, then we will leave our positions and be the ones asking who is really betraying the Motherland.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Moscow had failed to capture Bakhmut despite a self-imposed deadline to give Putin a battlefield trophy in time for the holiday. Moscow regards capturing Bakhmut as a stepping stone towards taking other cities in Ukraine’s industrial east.
Ukraine said its air defences had shot down 23 of 25 Russian cruise missiles fired chiefly at the capital Kyiv overnight, and there were no reported casualties.
Russia’s defence ministry said it had “launched a concentrated strike using high-precision, long-range sea and air-based weapons aimed against enemy barracks and ammunition depots”.
After a weeks-long hiatus, Russia in late April resumed its tactic of long-range missile strikes against Ukraine and has launched a flurry of attacks in recent days.
The day provided Zelenskiy an opportunity to demonstrate Ukraine’s clear break from Moscow by hosting von der Leyen.