Putin, at Red Square parade, calls for victory in Ukraine
Moscow (AFP) -
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday vowed Russia would be victorious in Ukraine during a military parade on Red Square and blamed Western countries for the conflict, comparing the fighting to World War II.
On the same day, the United States announced a $1.2-billion security assistance package for Ukraine, which has been battling Russian troops for the past 15 months.
During his Red Square address, Putin told columns of military personnel in ceremonial uniform that the country's future rests on Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
'Today civilisation is again at a decisive turning point,' Putin said, standing shoulder to shoulder with elderly veterans and soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
'A war has been unleashed against our motherland,' he said, adding that 'the future of our statehood and our people depend on you.'
'For Russia, for our armed forces, for victory! Hurrah!'
Putin was joined on Red Square by leaders of seven ex-Soviet states, including Armenia and Kazakhstan.
But the anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany 78 years ago has been overshadowed by the military's slow gains and heavy losses in Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of mercenary group Wagner, released a new expletive-ridden video, accusing a Russian unit of abandoning their positions near Bakhmut, the epicentre of the fighting in Ukraine.
'They all fled, exposing the front,' Prigozhin said, repeating a vow that his men would leave Bakhmut by May 10 if the military does not supply more ammunition.
Wagner has been leading Russia's months-long assault for Bakhmut, a destroyed industrial town in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces have little to show after a winter offensive.
'Why is the state not able to defend its country?' Prigozhin said in the scathing video, in which he also accused Russia's top brass of trying to 'deceive' Putin on how the Ukraine campaign was being led.
The parade -- a central event under Putin's two-decade rule -- took place amid heightened security after a series of unprecedented attacks on Russian soil.
- 'Parade of cowardice and fear' -
In Kyiv, Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, pointed out that the Red Square parade lasted just about 40 minutes.
'A parade of cowardice and fear,' he added. 'Fear is the main reason that made the Kremlin pack run as fast as possible back to the bunker hole.'
In the streets of Moscow, families had come out to view the parade.
Giya Merkeliya, a 55-year-old driver, carried a portrait of his grandfather, killed in 1943 during fighting in southern Russia.
'I'm waiting for victory,' he said, and 'for all our guys to come back, for everything to be okay', he told AFP.
- 'Show of force' -
In Poland, Russia's ambassador was blocked by pro-Ukrainian activists from laying flowers at a Soviet memorial in the capital Warsaw.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that Russia's 'show of force' in Moscow would not intimidate the European Union, which he said should reform to become a larger 'geopolitical' bloc.
The EU should stay 'steadfast in our support for Ukraine, as long as it is necessary', he said.
In the run-up to Victory Day, Russia was hit with several acts of sabotage, including an explosion that derailed a train, a drone attack on the Kremlin and a car bomb that wounded a pro-Kremlin writer.
More than two dozen cities and towns cancelled plans to stage their own military parades over security concerns.
Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has stoked patriotic fervour around the 1945 Soviet victory over the Nazis, boosting his standing as the heir of Soviet power.
The Kremlin has also used the memory of the Soviet war effort to justify its offensive in Ukraine, claiming it is fighting 'fascists' supported by the West.
- 'Symbolic day' -
In Kyiv, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Ukraine is 'fighting for the ideals of Europe that we celebrate today'.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the new US aid as a 'sign of solidarity with Ukraine shown on a symbolic day for us -- Europe Day and the Day of Victory over Nazism in WWII.'
The Ukrainian leader marked Europe Day -- which celebrates peace and unity in a symbolic retort to Moscow's Victory Day parade -- with von der Leyen in Kyiv.
Zelensky urged the EU to speed up deliveries of artillery shells, seen as key for a Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian positions expected in the coming weeks.
'The need for them on the battlefield is already present,' Zelensky told reporters in Kyiv.
He said 'the time has come' to make a decision on starting talks for Ukraine to join the European Union.
Zelensky this week decreed that May 9 would be celebrated in his country as Europe Day, as it is in Brussels, spurning the martial Victory Day tradition of the former Soviet Union.
Shortly before von der Leyen arrived, Ukraine's air force said it had downed 23 out of 25 cruise missiles launched by Russia overnight.