Vladimir Putin has claimed Russia was forced to “strike back pre-emptively” against Ukraine, adding that the Kremlin’s troops were fighting “on their own land” in the conflict, just as Soviet forces did in the second world war.
In his speech at the annual Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square, the Russian president sought to justify his invasion by claiming Russia had to defend itself against an imminent attack. Ukraine and its allies say such accusations have no basis in reality but they appear to highlight how committed Putin is to defeating Kyiv.
Adding that some of the troops participating in the parade had fought in the battle for the eastern Donbas border region, Putin claimed Ukraine had been preparing to “invade our historical lands,” including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
He said this had created what he termed an “absolutely unacceptable threat for us directly on our borders” that meant a clash with what he called US-backed ‘neo-Nazis” was inevitable.
“Russia struck back pre-emptively against the aggression. This was a forced, timely and the only correct decision for a sovereign, strong and self-sufficient country,” Putin said.
By contrast, in his own speech shortly before Putin’s address, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia’s leadership of repeating the “horrific crimes of Hitler’s regime” by waging a war of atrocities and land grabs.
“This is not a war of two armies,” Zelensky said in video address showing him strolling down Khreshchatyk, Kyiv’s main street. “This is a war of two world views — a war waged by barbarians.”
Predicting Ukraine would defeat Russia, Zelensky also challenged Putin’s Soviet view that the USSR itself defeated Nazi Germany through a so-called “Great Patriotic War”. He emphasised that millions of Ukrainians perished and fought against Nazi Germany during the second world war.
“Today we celebrate the day of victory over Nazism and we will not give anyone a single piece of our history,” Zelensky said.