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 as recent tensions between Moscow and the West have been reminiscent of the Cold War over the conflict in Ukraine and a litany of spy scandals in Europe.
“The Soviet people kept their sacred oath, defended their homeland and freed the countries of Europe from the Black Death,” Putin told the crowd.
“Russia systematically defends international law. At the same time, we will firmly defend our national interests to ensure the security of our people, ”he said.
The Russian leader also condemned what he called a creeping return of the ideologies of the era, when “slogans of racial and national superiority, anti-Semitism and Russophobia were becoming increasingly cynical.”
His speech comes at the start of an annual parade that sees military equipment rolling through the streets of Moscow.
More than 12,000 military personnel took part in Sunday’s parade, along with some 190 pieces of military equipment and 76 fighter jets and helicopters.
The Victory Day parades, which did not become an annual event until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and which assumed increasing importance in projecting Russia’s renewed military might over the two decades in power, also took place on Sunday in dozens of cities across the country.
– “Victory of all the Russian people” –
A survey this week by public pollster VTsIOM showed that 69% of Russians consider Victory Day the most important holiday on the calendar.
A third of respondents said they would take part in the celebrations, while a fifth said they would watch them on TV.
“For me and my family, this holiday marks the victory of all the Russian people,” Yulia Gulevskikh, a 31-year-old accountant, told AFP in the far eastern city of Vladivostok.
“We are proud, we remember and honor all of our relatives and friends. And all the brave soldiers, ”she added, noting that she was happy that the parade took place despite the pandemic measures.
This year’s Victory Day was the second in the coronavirus pandemic.
Russia has lifted almost all of its measures to limit the spread of the virus, although a ban remains in place on mass gatherings in most areas.
As of Sunday, the total infections stood at nearly 4.9 million and deaths at more than 113,000, according to a tally from health officials.
But authorities have been criticized for downplaying the severity of the outbreak in Russia by counting only those deaths for which the coronavirus was found to be the leading cause of death after an autopsy.
Figures released by Russia’s statistical agency last month showed the country had actually recorded some 250,000 virus-related deaths as of the end of March.
– Tensions with the West –
Sunday’s commemorations came as Russia in recent weeks has seen its diplomats expelled from a handful of European countries over spy scandals, while the United States and the European Union have imposed new sanctions in Moscow for the treatment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and allegations of hacking. and cyber attacks.
Tensions have also exploded over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which erupted after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and where Moscow is widely seen as supporting pro-Russian separatists.
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