President Vladimir Putin on Sunday pledged that Russia will “firmly” defend national interests and denounced the return of “Russophobia” as the country marks the 76th anniversary of the victory of World War II.
His speech to thousands of soldiers and veterans in Red Square comes at the start of an annual parade that sees hundreds of pieces of military equipment rolling through the streets of Moscow.
“The Soviet people kept their sacred oath, defended their homeland and freed the countries of Europe from the Black Death,” Putin told the assembled crowd.
“Russia systematically defends international law. At the same time, we will firmly defend our national interests to ensure the safety of our people, ”Putin said.
The Russian leader also denounced what he called a creeping return of the ideologies of the time, when “slogans of racial and national superiority, anti-Semitism and Russophobia were becoming increasingly cynical.”
State agency RIA Novosti reported that more than 12,000 military personnel would take part in Sunday’s parade in the Russian capital, along with some 190 pieces of military equipment and 76 fighter jets and helicopters.
The Victory Day parades, which only became an annual event after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, also took place in dozens of cities across the country on Sunday.
During Putin’s two decades in power, the holiday has grown in importance to project Russia’s renewed military might.
A survey conducted this week by public pollster VTsIOM shows that 69% of Russians consider it the most important holiday on the calendar.
A third of the respondents told VTsIOM they would participate in the celebrations, while a fifth said they would watch on TV.
– Tensions with the West –
The commemorations of the 76th anniversary of the 1945 victory come as tensions with the West draw close to the Cold War era in recent weeks.
Russia has seen its diplomats expelled from a handful of European countries over spy scandals, as the United States and the European Union imposed new sanctions on Moscow for the treatment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and allegations of hacking and cyber attacks.
Moscow has stepped up its military activities abroad, intervening on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the civil war in Syria. It is also widely seen as supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Tensions in the conflict, which erupted after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, have also exploded in recent weeks.
Clashes between the government and separatists have intensified since January in a conflict that has left more than 13,000 dead.
Last month, Russia mustered 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders and in the Crimea, its biggest build-up since 2014, though it quickly announced a pullout in what many saw as a test for the new US president. Joe Biden.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Kiev to show his support for Ukraine against Russia, and ahead of an expected summit between Putin and Biden next month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled with European diplomats to the pro-Russian secessionist Lugansk region on Saturday to commemorate the end of World War II.
© 2021 AFP