Putin looked like a loser in his ‘Victory Day’ speech

Victory Day, commemorating the USSR’s triumph over the Nazis, was again a source of great fanfare and attention in countries of the former Soviet bloc. The day brought, as it has done in the past, military parades and solemn commemorations. And, as has often been the case in the past, he delivered a driving presidential speech that conveyed great strength and determination in the contemporary battle against Hitler’s successors.

The twist on this May 9 is that the inspiring eloquence came not from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who offered a lackluster, slogan-laden retread of a speech, but from the man who has for more than two months led the effort to deny Russia a victory in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Indeed, the Ukrainian president’s speech revealed the emptiness of Putin’s words and the pomp of the Red Square military parade with which Russia has traditionally put on a grand show of flexing its muscles for the world.

Both presidents referred to the Nazis when describing their adversaries in the current war. But when Putin said his nation was “fighting so that no one would forget the lessons of World War II, so that there would be no place in the world for executioners, punishers and Nazis” – his words were bitter reminders that he had made the Russia that once displayed such courage in defeating Hitler’s armies to make them heirs to the Nazi legacy of wanton brutality.

Zelensky made that point in a speech that showed the oratorical gifts the world expects from the comedian and media entrepreneur turned president. Calling Putin crazy, he condemned his Russian counterpart and adversary as “the one who today repeats the horrible crimes of the Hitler regime”.

In a carefully crafted video message, Zelensky’s point was inescapable: Russia’s effort is doomed precisely because Putin has not only forgotten the lessons of World War II, but also because he has defiled and abused the memory of its victims and its heroes.

Zelensky’s video was austere and involved no flashes or poses of the Russian “celebration.” But in this simplicity and austerity, it exposed the deception and betrayal of Russian parades.

The reality is that it’s hard to throw a good old-fashioned victory party when you’re losing.

Russia could muster rows of troops in freshly pressed uniforms and displays of military hardware. But it was clear that there were fewer troops and weapons available today than just over two months ago. The range of military equipment on display was much more limited, and Putin has made a rare public acknowledgment of fallen Russian soldiers since stepping up his eight-year assault on Ukraine in February.

Putin repeated his oft-denied accusations that Ukrainians and the West are responsible for the current war. But the speech was perhaps most notable for what was left unsaid.

Some Western analysts expected Putin to use the occasion to announce a major escalation in the conflict. But not only did that not happen, his throwbacks to outdated nationalist rhetoric also suggested that he may have been a leader who had run out of options.

Questions have also been raised that a planned overflight of Russian military aircraft did not take place due to “weather conditions”… on a beautiful May day in Moscow. The Ukrainian government, however, was prepared to fill the void by the release of his own videomocking the Russian parade which featured a wide array of Russian military helicopters and vehicles doing what Russians have done so frequently in Ukraine, bringing home stolen Ukrainian washing machines and other household appliances.

The reality is that it’s hard to throw a good old-fashioned victory party when you’re losing.

Who knows what kind of celebrations Putin may have once envisioned for this week when he initially launched his invasion. Perhaps he had hoped the parade would feature the spoils of victory, reclaimed arms, perhaps a corresponding celebration before his generals in a kyiv that has regained its “rightful” place as part of greater Russia. But there was little good news for Putin to celebrate given his defeats and huge losses in Ukraine.

Putin didn’t help matters when he echoed the language of losers elsewhere on the planet (particularly here in the US) by talking about “cancel culture” and mocking references to “values”. traditional”.

Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, evidence of a different kind of spirit was on display this week, not just through Zelensky’s speeches, but with visits from luminaries as diverse as U2’s Bono (who s occurred in a subway station) and US First Lady Jill Biden.

This does not mean that the Russian army has made no progress in Ukraine. He has made some gains in the East, and the record in Ukraine itself has been devastating. That said, even the response to these losses shows evidence of a spirit, resilience and level of global support that gives Ukraine a clear advantage on VE Day. Reconstruction is already underway, and Western countries are considering ways to fund the broader reconstruction effort, an effort that will take hundreds of billions of dollars to complete. (Offering a hint of the public anger directed at Russia in Europe, the country’s ambassador to Poland was doused in blood-red liquid during a memorial ceremony there.)

As the echoes of martial music faded from Red Square on VE Day 2022, so too did the illusions that Putin sought to evoke in his speech about Russian glory and its ill-started war.


Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: