On May 9, Putin may seek to declare victory in Ukraine

Russian military vehicles rehearse ahead of the Russian ‘Victory Day’ military parade marking the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, May 4, 2022.

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As Russia approaches one of the most important days on its calendar, speculation is rife that President Vladimir Putin could use May 9 to declare some kind of victory in Ukraine – or even all-out war. .

Otherwise known as ‘Victory Day’, May 9 is a key day for Russia’s national identity as it marks the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II in 1945.

The day sees Moscow displaying its military might with pomp, pride and pageantry, with massive military parades through the center of the capital watched by Putin and other top Kremlin officials.

This year, the event will take on added importance given that Russia is actively engaged in a military conflict with Ukraine, having invaded its neighbor on February 24.

Russian President of Russia and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Vladimir Putin (C) and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (R) during a military parade on the day of Victory marking the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War II, on June 24, 2020 in Moscow, Russia.

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Mass mobilization or victory?

Western officials and geopolitical analysts, as well as Ukrainian intelligence, suggest that Putin could use this year’s Victory Day to announce a victory in Ukraine – particularly in the eastern region of Donbass where his forces have concentrated their forces. attacks in recent weeks.

There are also fears that the date could see Russia double down on its invasion, ordering the massive mobilization of its army and citizens on a war footing.

Russia has certainly stepped up its attacks on Ukraine in recent days and, having withdrawn its forces from the north in recent weeks, has focused on taking key strategic positions in southern and eastern Ukraine, particularly in the Donbass region where she supported separatist rebels. for the past eight years.

Looking ahead to VE Day, William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said there were “two real big options” for Putin .

“The first is that he just declares victory with what he’s got and he says, ‘Look, I expanded the DPR and the LPR [the two pro-Russian “People’s Republics” in Donetsk and Lugansk]and said, “I connected them to Crimea and the land bridge, and we secured Crimea’s water supply and now I can declare it part of Russia,” Alberque said.

“Or, the alternative is for him to declare actual war and an all-out war mobilization.”

Given the unpredictable nature of Putin’s leadership, Alberque said that “at the end of the day, we have to prepare for the worst.”

Mass mobilization of the Russian population for wartime operations would, however, be a big step for Putin, potentially putting him at risk of popular dissent, especially if thousands of new young Russian conscripts are sent to fight in the war despite their low training.

In March, Putin signed a decree ordering the entry of 134,500 new conscripts into the army, raising eyebrows that they might be destined to fight in Ukraine; Putin insisted they would not.

A tank belonging to pro-Russian rebels is seen in separatist-controlled Donetsk, Ukraine, on March 11, 2022.

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Russia has repeatedly denied that May 9 would herald the declaration of war on Ukraine and has avoided the term “war” since the start of its invasion, calling it a “special military operation” instead.

Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov this week chastised journalists asking how likely Putin was to declare war on Ukraine, telling them “no, that’s nonsense”.

Russia is “getting ready”

Asked if Russia plans to announce full mobilization on May 9, Kyiv’s defense intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov seemed certain.

Yes, they are preparing,” he said, adding that Rosreserv – the Russian state agency responsible for storing, securing and managing supplies of state-owned food and equipment in anticipation of states of emergency – had “begun to check what they actually had in stock” and to calculate what they can give on mobilization orders.”

“This is an absolutely necessary step before the start of a real mobilization,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on before the Victory Day military parade in Red Square marking the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II June 24, 2020 in Moscow, Russia.


With ‘Victory Day’ centered on the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, the opportunity would have come for Putin to compare his invasion of Ukraine, and what he claims to be his ‘protection’ of ethnic Russians. there, to Russia’s defense of the country in the world. Second war.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said last week he would not be surprised if Putin used VE Day to declare that Russia was “now at war with the Nazis of the world”. The Kremlin has repeatedly made baseless claims that the Ukrainian government is run by “Nazis” in an effort to justify its invasion to the Russian public, with experts saying the claim is unfounded.

How far can Putin go?

There are fears that any mass mobilization could be accompanied by the introduction of martial law in Russia, a move that would bestow extraordinary powers on Putin, allowing a dramatic increase in his control over the lives of citizens and the Russian economy.

Not only would this give him the power to close Russia’s borders and censor communications, but he could introduce curfews, control the food supply, seize private property and mobilize the population for wartime operations. , even to the point of forced labor for defense purposes.

The Russian constitution allows for the introduction of martial law if the country is attacked by an outside force and there is concern that Russia is planning a false flag attack to justify all-out war and martial law.

Destroyed buildings are seen as Russian attacks continue in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 04, 2022.

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One of the big questions in this regard is how far Putin is willing to go to achieve his goals in Ukraine.

Maximilian Hess, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told CNBC that “it’s very clear that he wants to be able to have something that he sees as a big win and soon.”

Hess said the “complete eradication” of the Ukrainian military in Donetsk and Luhansk was Putin’s main air weapon, but “I don’t think that’s where he wants to stop.”

“It remains to be seen whether there is a clear overall Russian military strategy, but the tactics are certainly brutal,” he added.

It is widely believed that Russia is focusing its attacks on the Donbass region in order to fully claim the territory and enable it to create a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, on the southern coast of Ukraine. This would give it access to crucial ports for its economy and its military fleet on the Black Sea.

The battered coastal town of Mariupol – which has seen some of the heaviest fighting in recent weeks – appears to be a key part of this plan, as its capture would help Russia secure the Crimea-Donbass link.

The British Ministry of Defense noted on Friday that Russian forces had continued their assault on the Azovstal steelworks in the city for a second day, despite Russian statements saying they would only seek to seal it off.

“Russia’s renewed efforts to secure Azovstal and complete the capture of Mariupol are likely linked to the upcoming May 9 VE Day commemorations and Putin’s desire for symbolic success in Ukraine,” the ministry tweeted.

The question of whether the capture of Mariupol and control of the Donbas region would satisfy Russia, and whether Ukraine is ready to concede part of its territory (it says that is not the case), indicates a open conflict that could last for years. Strategists have warned that the conflict in Ukraine could become a war of attrition, with massive casualties on both sides and no clear “winner”.

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