Russia’s troops in Ukraine were “fighting for the motherland, its future,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday at military parade marking the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
But Putin did not, as some analysts and Western officials expected, use his Victory Day speech in Moscow’s Red Square to declare a full mobilization or “war” against Ukraine. Putin stuck with the phrase he’s been using since Feb. 24 to describe Russia’s invasion – a “special military operation.” There was no declaration of victory.
In brief remarks at the parade, Putin accused the West of preparing the ground for “an invasion of our land” and said NATO was an “obvious threat” to Russia.
“The danger was rising by the day,” he said as he surveyed thousands of troops. “Russia has given a pre-emptive response to aggression. It was a forced, timely and the only correct decision.”
Mykhailo Podoliak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Twitter dismissed claims that NATO was going to attack Russia and said Ukraine had no plans to attack Crimea.
“The Russian military is dying, not defending their country, but trying to occupy another,” Podoliak wrote. “There were no rational reasons for this war other than the painful imperial ambitions of the Russian Federation.”
►Russian forces pushed forward Monday in their assault on Ukraine, seeking to capture the crucial southern port city of Mariupol. Determined to show success in a war now in its 11th week, Russian troops pummeled a seaside steel mill where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are making their last stand.
►A Russian airstrike may have killed as many as 60 people sheltering in the basement of a school in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bilohorivka on Sunday, one of the deadliest assaults against civilians in the war.
►Leaders from the Group of Seven, including the United States, pledged Sunday to ban the import of Russian oil and impose a new round of sanctions.
Zelenskyy released a video address marking Victory Day in his nation, paying homage to the 8 million Ukrainians who died in World War II and promising that Ukraine will soon have two Victory Days.
“Today we celebrate Victory Day over Nazism,” Zelenskyy said. “We are our proud of our ancestors who together with other nations in the anti-Hitler coalition defeated Nazism.”
Putin has claimed his invasion was to “denazify” Ukraine. Zelenskyy, however, compared Russia’s aggression to Nazi Germany in WWII.
“We won then, we will win now, too,” he said.
The war has dragged on beyond Russian pre-war expectations, likely “heavily” depleting Russia’s stockpile of precision-guided munitions, the British Defense Ministry said Monday in its daily assessment of the carnage. This has forced the use of readily available but ageing munitions that are less reliable, less accurate and more easily intercepted, the assessment says. Russia will likely struggle to replace the precision weaponry it has already expended, it adds.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed shortcomings in its ability to conduct precision strikes at scale,” the assessment says. “Russia has subjected Ukraine’s towns and cities to intense and indiscriminate bombardments with little or no regard for civilian casualties.
The last civilians who were sheltering in Mariupol’s sprawling steel mill arrived late Sunday in Zaporizhzhia, the first major Ukrainian city beyond the frontlines.
The Azovstal steel mill is the only part of Mariupol not under Russian control. The port city has been constantly bombarded by Russia for weeks, but the tunnels and bunkers deep underground the mill provided some protection to those still in Mariupol.
More than 300 people were evacuated in recent days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, after conditions in the underground bunkers increasingly worsened and Russia ramped up its shelling.
Now, only an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remain in the steel mill, where they are making what appears to be their last stand.
Zelenskyy said it would be “difficult” to evacuate the Ukrainian soldiers still there.
— Celina Tebor
Contributing: The Associated Press