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In Russia, Vladimir Putin stigmatizes “Western elites”

Correspondent in Moscow.

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In Russia, Vladimir Putin stigmatizes “Western elites”

Correspondent in Moscow

Never seen before, or almost: on May 9, when “Victory Day” is celebrated in Russia, Moscow was covered in a thin layer of snow. In his speech, before the traditional military parade on Red Square, Vladimir Putin hardly surprised. The Russian president reiterated the nuclear threat, already mentioned at the beginning of the week by the Kremlin – after having done so several times since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. “Russia will do everything to avoid a confrontation global. But, at the same time, we will not allow anyone to threaten us. Our strategic forces are always on alert,” the president said, referring to Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Last Monday, Moscow announced the holding of tactical nuclear exercises, involving troops stationed near Ukraine, in response to Western "threats" to intervene directly in the conflict - France was particularly targeted after the declarations of Emmanuel Macron mentioning the possible sending of ground troops.

“Russia is currently going through a difficult period, a pivotal period. The fate of the homeland and its future depend on each of us,” underlined Vladimir Putin, without detailing the military situation on the ground where the Russian army has made some progress in recent months. On the other hand, he saluted “those who are on the front line (and who) are our heroes”, equal, according to him, to “our fathers, our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers (… ) who defended their native land and crushed Nazism. Next to him, crowded into their chairs and covered with decorations, sat the last gray patch of veterans of the Great Patriotic War. Among them, Colonel Yevgeny Kuropatov and sniper Alexandra Alyoshina, both centenarians. He had participated in the first "victory parade", on this same Red Square, in 1945... Everywhere in Russia, posters show the fighters of this almost disappeared generation, watching over the shoulders of their cadets engaged in Ukraine against a power from Kiev, also described as a “Nazi”.

Of the nine thousand soldiers present at the parade, a thousand were participants in the “special military operation” in Ukraine, many others, often wounded, were in the stands. “All of Russia is with you,” the Russian leader told them.

Vladimir Putin, who often summons - as if to consolidate his legitimacy - the memory of the Second World War, deplored on Thursday that the “truth” about it is “distorted”. A complaint in opposition to Westerners, while he himself constantly develops his own vision of history. “They demolish the memorials of the real fighters against Nazism, put traitors and collaborators of the Nazis on pedestals,” he denounced, referring to the destruction of monuments from the Soviet era in the countries of the ex-USSR, limited but very real, and the persistence, marginal as it stands, in the Ukrainian memorial space of “nationalist” figures, such as Stepan Bandera. For its part, the Russian Ministry of Defense, according to figures provided last December, more than three thousand monuments “to the glory of Soviet liberating soldiers have already been destroyed in the countries of the European Union”. According to the Russian president, “revanchism, derision of history and the desire to justify current supporters of the Nazis are part of the general policy of Western elites aimed at increasingly fueling regional conflicts, inter-ethnic hostility and interreligious.

This May 9 parade, the third since the start of the war in Ukraine, turned out to be relatively modest. Only a handful of leaders made the trip, including Central Asian neighbors, the essential Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his counterparts from Laos, Cuba and Guinea-Bissau.

Staged as a great spectacle, this key moment in the “patriotic” story orchestrated by Vladimir Putin bore by default the mark of the colossal forces drawn from the human and economic capital of the country – whatever it may appear to the population. The flypast, although it took place despite the leaden skies, only involved fifteen planes (compared to more than fifty in 2021). Participants in operations in Ukraine were twice as numerous as last year, but several prestigious units (such as the 4th Guards Kantemirov Tank Division) were not represented and many equipment currently used on the front were not parade.

Also read: Russia intensifies its hybrid war against the West

“The war in Ukraine continues to absorb all the resources of the army,” underlines the Telegram channel Agentstvo. Essential, especially in the current context, the Iskander-M and S-400 Triomph missiles as well as the impressive Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles were presented on Red Square. The only new capacity to have paraded this year, the Linsa medical vehicle, which entered service in 2020.

Resuming his vision of history, Vladimir Putin, who systematically evades the sequence of the German-Soviet pact, affirmed that “during the first three long years of the Great Patriotic War, the USSR and all the republics of the former USSR fought the Nazis virtually alone while almost all of Europe worked for the military might of the Wehrmacht. However, the Russian leader went on to point out that “Russia has never downplayed the importance of the second front and the assistance of the Allies.”

Should we see in this an allusion, among other things, to the Normandy landings, the 80th anniversary of which will be celebrated on June 6? Vladimir Putin is not invited “because of the war of aggression in Ukraine”, indicated last month the Liberation Mission, responsible in France for organizing the event. However, this organization specified, "Russia will be invited to be represented so that the importance of the commitment and sacrifices of the Soviet peoples, (27 million deaths on the Soviet side, Editor's note) as well as its contribution to the victory of 1945, be honored.”

For historians of the period, first and foremost Frenchman Olivier Wieviorka, “it is undeniable that the war against Nazi Germany was won in the East.” For his part, Vladimir Putin conceded a “tribute to the bravery of all the soldiers of the anti-Hitler coalition, the resistance fighters, the clandestine fighters, the partisans…” A faint echo of concord, briefly opened the minefield of the shared story.

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