Vladimir Putin has reiterated a familiar list of complaints and grievances at the annual Victory Day parade in Moscow, which marks the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany in 1945. Russia was forced to invade Ukraine; its armed forces are fighting “Nazis” and “Banderovites” (Ukrainian fascists); Moscow is a fortress under siege from Nato.
Putin did not, though, announce a ramping up of the war, though his language clearly committed him to a continuation of the fight on current terms. His short speech did not declare a mobilisation of reservists or an intensification of the military effort. It did not include a formal declaration that what he calls a “special military operation” is what it is, a war. Nor did he declare victory in the territory his forces have succeeded in seizing, principally in the south and east of Ukraine.
It is virtually certain that Putin wanted this Victory Day to be different. He would have liked to declare today that Ukraine has been, as he grotesquely puts it, “denazified,” one of his euphemisms for completely defeated. Yet the Ukrainians’ stunning resistance put paid to that hope. The conflict may now drag on for months longer in the east of the country, with Russia’s exhausted forces at risk of possible counter-offences by well-supplied and motivated Ukrainian troops.
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Russia’s war in Ukraine is stuck. The front lines in the south and east of the country have not moved greatly since the first weeks of the war. In the north, the Ukrainians forced the Russians to retreat from their assault on Kyiv. Putin’s Victory Day speech showed that he does not have any good answers for how to extricate his country from the quagmire in which it finds itself.