Putin Hits Out At U.S. In Red Square Parade Speech
(Article ©2018 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – May 9, 2018 – also appeared at rferl.org/a/russia-marks-end-of-world-war-ii-with-military-parade-on-red-square/29216745.html)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued veiled criticism of the United States in a speech before a Red Square parade marking the anniversary of Germany’s defeat in World War II, listing “pretentions to exceptionalism” as a factor that drove Nazi aggression and saying such attitudes remain a threat to global security today.
As former Soviet republics marked May 9 in starkly different ways, meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Russia an aggressor and likened Kyiv’s conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to the defense against the Nazi onslaught decades ago.
Putin spoke on Moscow’s Red Square, addressing an annual Victory Day military parade two days after he was sworn in for a fourth presidential term.
Thousands of troops marched, and heavy weapons such as Iskander missile launchers rolled across the cobblestone square in a show of might at the start of a six-year term that comes amid severe tension with the West over Moscow’s military action in Ukraine and Syria, among other issues. Warplanes screamed overhead.
“War is always a challenge to life itself, to all the best in it. We remember the tragedies of two world wars, the lessons of history — they do not let us shut our eyes,” Putin said.
“Behind new threats stand the same ugly, old traits: egoism and intolerance, aggressive nationalism and pretentions to exceptionalism.”
As ties between Washington and Moscow soured badly early in Putin’s previous presidential term, Russian authorities criticized U.S. officials including President Barack Obama for speaking of American “exceptionalism,” echoing a long-standing Russian accusation that the United States is set on dominating the world.
Warning that “peace is very fragile,” Putin said that “Russia is open to dialogue on all questions of the provision of global security and is ready for constructive, equal partnership in the name of concord, calm, and progress on the planet.”
Western governments say they would welcome such cooperation but that Russia has acted aggressively on the world stage in recent years.
Putin also hit out at what he asserted were attempts to “rewrite and distort history” and deny “the feat of the people who saved Europe and the world from slavery, extermination, and the horrors of the Holocaust.” He added: “We will always be proud that the Soviet people did not blink or bend before the cruel enemy, when some states preferred the shame of capitulation.”
Some 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians were killed in World War II, and the Nazi surrender in May 1945 is seen by many Russians as a high point in a troubled 20th-century history.
Russian officials sometimes accuse the United States and other Western countries of playing down the Soviet Union’s massive contribution to the Allied victory, and Putin has often focused heavily on the Soviet role in his May 9 speeches.
Foreign leaders present for the parade this year included Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose visit to Moscow comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu, like Trump, is a fierce critic of the deal, while Russia supports it.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said before the parade that some 13,000 people, 159 pieces of military hardware, and 75 aircraft would take part.
Putin — who ordered the revival of the participation of heavy weaponry in the annual parade in 2008, which was held days after he stepped down after eight years as president when he was barred from reelection by term limits — ramped up Russia’s weapons programs and its military action abroad in his third term.
The weapons on display on May 9 included the Kinzhal (Dagger) missile — one of the new arms Putin touted in an aggressive state-of-the-nation speech on March 1, during his sure-thing campaign for a new six-year term as president. The missile was carried by MiG-31K jets that flew over central Moscow.
Other weapons shown on Red Square were the Yars mobile, intercontinental-nuclear-missile launcher; the Iskander-M ballistic missile launcher; and the S-400 air-defense missile system, which Russia has deployed to protect its forces backing President Bashar al-Assad in the war in Syria.
There was also the Su-57 stealth fighter, the Uran-9 unmanned armored vehicle, and a machine-gun-fitted snowmobile called the Berkut, a signal of Russia’s ambitions in the Arctic.
In addition to Moscow, military parades were held on Palace Square in St. Petersburg and in nearly 30 other Russian cities, with a total of 55,000 troops, 1,200 weapons systems, and 150 warplanes taking part.
Changing Views Of Victory
Victory Day celebrations were also held in several other former Soviet republics. But with feelings of unity with Moscow inspired by the memory of the war fading — and many of Russia’s neighbors wary of its intentions following its interference in Ukraine, where it seized Crimea in 2014 and supports armed separatists in the east — the way the end of the war in Europe is marked differs from country to country.
In Kyiv, Poroshenko lashed out at Russia at a commemoration ceremony, calling it an aggressor. Kyiv police said seven people were detained during the celebrations for carrying banned communist-era symbols and the St. George ribbon, which is seen by many Ukrainians as symbol of Russian aggression.
“Just like in the 1930s and 1940s, when our ancestors defended our land from the Nazi invasion, now we are defending our beloved Ukraine from the Moscow horde,” Poroshenko said.
More than 10,300 civilians and combatants have been killed since April 2014 in the conflict between Kyiv’s forces and the Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In Ukraine, May 9 has since 2016 been officially called the Day of Victory over Nazism in World War II — wording that moved away from the Soviet term the Great Patriotic War.
Poroshenko, Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman, other officials, and veterans took part in a special ceremony to commemorate victims and heroes of the war, which devastated Ukraine and northern neighbor Belarus as Nazi forces attacked and then retreated across their territory.
In Belarus, unofficial celebrations in the streets of Minsk featured Soviet flags, St. George ribbons, and portraits of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. But the official Victory Day ceremony was devoid of those symbols.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came out with veiled criticism of the Russian leadership’s approach to the memory of the war, saying that “there is no need to divide that victory.”
“Belarus has always stood against the distortion of history, but we never thought that we would face another ordeal, which is the privatization of our victory,” Lukashenka, whose country’s close ties to Russia are sometimes strained, said after he and his three sons laid a wreath at a monument in Minsk’s Victory Square.
In Kyrgyzstan, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov held a portrait of his grandfather, who went missing in action during the war, at a march in Bishkek called the Immortal Regiment — a version of an event that has been held in several former Soviet republics.
With reporting by Reuters and TASS