As per tradition on the May 9 Victory Day, Russian leader Vladimir Putin – now recognized as a “dictator” by the Council of Europe – gave his speech on Red Square, ostensibly to commemorate the Soviet losses of WWII and honor the memories of those who perished fighting Nazism. 

Putin, whose nation is now undertaking an invasion of Ukraine, used the moment to justify his war.

From nuclear threats to historical revisionism, here are five highlights from Putin’s Victory Day monologue.

‘All the Russian soldiers in Ukraine are our heroes’

At the beginning of his speech, Putin praised the participants of its so-called “special military operation” and likened them to those fighting against Nazi Germany in WWII.

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“We are celebrating Victory Day in the context of a special military operation. All its participants – those on the front line, on the line of combat contact – are our heroes.”

“Spiritual involvement in their destinies and exploits inextricably binds generations of heroes of the Fatherland,” Putin said.

Timothy Snyder, an American historian specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Holocaust has referred to Putin’s framing as “a genocidal myth.”

“If the Ukrainians are ‘Nazis,’ then Russians – even though they started the war and have killed tens of thousands of people and kidnapped tens of thousands of children and carry out war crimes every single day – must be the righteous sufferers,” Snyder wrote.

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The next six months are critical for Ukraine, and all bets are off as to its outcome. Even so, the author writes that the US mainstream press has turned negative about Ukraine’s prospects.

Kyiv Post has compiled a list of some of these war crimes.

‘Our strategic forces are always on alert’

Putin also used the occasion to boast about Russia’s nuclear power.

Without acknowledging Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin said the West is starting conflicts around the world and that Moscow would not tolerate it. 

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“Russia will do everything to prevent a global clash, but at the same time we will not allow anyone to threaten us. Our strategic forces are always on alert,” said Putin, whose aide, Dmitry Medvedev, regularly threatens nuclear strikes on the West.

Russia has also, on multiple occasions, threatened the West with “nuclear red lines,” warning the latter that helping Ukraine defend itself would mean incurring Russia’s wrath.

Many of Russia's declared “red lines” have already been crossed, including drone and missile attacks on Russian territory and incursions by saboteurs. However, so far, Russia’s war continues without the kind of massive escalation initially implied by the threats.

‘The USSR fought one-on-one with Nazism, while all of Europe worked for Hitler’

“The President noted that in the first years of the Great Patriotic War, the USSR fought one-on-one with Nazism, while all of Europe worked for Hitler. At the same time, Putin said that the Russian Federation does not belittle the importance of the second front in World War II,” state media TASS reports.

Despite colossal losses suffered by the USSR by 1945 – a staggering 27 million by some estimations,  surpassing the total of the Allied nations – the West had been fighting against Nazi Germany since 1939 – from the Battle of France to the Battle of Britain in 1940, one year before Russia says the war started.

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Russia has long called WWII the “Great Patriotic War,” saying it began in 1941, versus 1939.

The USSR had signed a secret non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany to partition Central and Eastern Europe – including Poland.

It worked with Hitler before the latter’s betrayal.

‘Sevastopol residents are worthy heirs of the patriotic traditions of their ancestors’

Putin also praised the residents of now Russian-occupied Sevastopol, Crimea in both WWII and in today’s Russo-Ukrainian War.

“The head of state emphasized that today Sevastopol residents – worthy heirs of the patriotic traditions of their ancestors – are selflessly fighting in the ranks of participants in a special military operation, defending the sovereignty and freedom of their homeland, and making a creative contribution to the development and strengthening of Russia,” reads a TASS story.

On a near-daily basis, Crimeans are indeed fighting, but for Ukraine – particularly the partisan movement, which regularly undertakes acts of sabotage against Russian occupation authorities.

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‘Together we will ensure a free, safe future for Russia’

“Victory Day unites all generations. We move forward, relying on our age-old traditions, and we are confident that together we will ensure a free, safe future for Russia, our united people,” said Putin at the end of his speech.

Putin’s Russia ranked 162 among 180 nations in Reporters Without Borders’ 2024 press freedom index.

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