Russian President Vladimir Putin told his country’s Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square on Tuesday that “a real war” has been unleashed against Russia by the West’s “untamed ambitions”, shortly after the Kremlin’s forces rained cruise missiles on Ukrainian targets.
“Today civilisation is once again at a decisive turning point,” the leader said at the capital’s annual commemorations celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. “A real war has been unleashed against our Motherland.”
Since Russia invaded its neighbour more than 14 months ago, Mr Putin has repeatedly framed the war in Ukraine as a proxy conflict with the West.
In his speech, Mr Putin insisted that the West’s “untamed ambitions, arrogance and impunity” are to blame for the conflict.
He welcomed soldiers fighting in Ukraine who were present at the parade, and concluded his speech: “To Russia! To our brave armed forces! To victory!”
Earlier, Russia unleashed a barrage of cruise missiles on Ukraine, hours before the start of the Moscow parade, which this year is taking place amid tight security measures.
The Kremlin’s forces launched 25 missiles overnight in a wave of attacks across Ukraine, the Ukrainian air force said, adding that air defence had successfully destroyed 23 of them.
The barrage came as Moscow and other cities hosted military parades and other festivities marking Victory Day, Russia’s biggest secular holiday which this year has been significantly overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.
At least 21 Russian cities cancelled May 9 military parades – the staple of celebrations across Russia – for the first time in years.
The Immortal Regiment processions, in which crowds take to the streets holding portraits of relatives who died or served in the Second World War – another pillar of the holiday – have also been cancelled in dozens of cities.
Regional officials blamed unspecified “security concerns”; however some speculated that the real reason behind the cancellations was the fear that Russians might take portraits of relatives who died in Ukraine, illustrating the scale of Russia’s losses in the drawn-out conflict.
In a video published on Telegram, Mr Prigozhin claimed that Russian army units had fled their positions in the city due to the “stupidity of their leadership” — a reference to the Defence Ministry — and that it threatened to charge Wagner troops with treason if they also pulled out.
Moscow was expected to project a show of force during its flagship parade in Red Square, with top-notch military equipment rumbling through it and leaders of ex-Soviet nations standing beside Mr Putin.
Initially, only one of them – Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov – was expected to attend, but at the last minute on Monday officials confirmed that leaders of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were heading to Moscow as well.
The pared-down celebrations come after ambiguous official reports last week that two Ukrainian drones flew into the heart of Moscow under the cover of darkness and reached the Kremlin before being shot down. The Kremlin billed it as an attempt on Mr Putin’s life; Ukraine denied involvement.