Putin’s Victory Day speech falls flat
The much-hyped event did not live up to its billing
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s May 9 Victory Day speech was perhaps the most anticipated speech of his career. Nuclear scientists, Western intelligence, European leaders, Ukrainian militiamen, and Japanese bankers, were all waiting amid warnings that Putin could declare an all-out-war, abandoning its pretence of calling the conflict a ‘special military operation’ or launching full mobilisation.
Putin disappointed. He delivered a short 20-minute stump speech seeking to rally his troops — 11,000 of whom gathered on Moscow’s Red Square for the event, as they do every year. Typically there would be more soldiers in attendance, but the Russian President noted the unique circumstances by highlighting that some had returned from the front for the celebration. He sought to tie the fighting in Ukraine to World War II, repeating his blood libel against a Ukrainian government led by Europe’s first post-holocaust Jewish head of state.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
But there was no declaration of war. Victory was spoken of as if it was assured, but Putin’s comments centred on the Donbas. Putin again equated the territory with Russia itself, declaring that: “Now as (during World War II), you are defending our people in the Donbas, for the security of our homeland, Russia”. He referred to eastern Ukraine as (our) “own land”.
Some observers may take that as an indication that Putin’s initial war aims to take all of Ukraine east of the Dnieper and along the Black Sea coast have therefore been scaled back.
The clearest message from the President is that he lives in an alternate reality. Or he is at least fully committed to the alternate realities his advisors have created for the Russian people. Putin declared the war one of self-defence, against the West, which he sees as wilfully turning a blind eye to the ‘fascist’ threat he sees in Ukraine. But he did not make any reference to the sanctions his warmongering has wrought, or the costs that Russians will have to bear, excepting a minute of silence for fallen soldiers. The silence was, however, accompanied by a droll drumbeat of war.
He did not differentiate between those who fell in the current war and in World War II. Russians have long been primed by a ‘victory ideology’ regarding the War — one of the few threads of public belief to stretch unbroken over the turbulence of the Soviet collapse, 1990s and subsequent development of the Putinist state.
It is this belief that allows Putin’s blatant falsehoods to take hold. He described his ‘special military operation’ as pre-emptive, warning “in Kyiv they considered acquiring nuclear weapons”. He described the pre-invasion war in the Donbas, which he stirred up, as a series of “punitive operations” against Russian-speakers. But it was his forces killed around 60 children, likely all Russian speakers, when bombing a Luhansk school just 48 hours prior.
According to Putin, Russians are still fighting a war that began over 80 years ago — and that this belief is sufficiently widely held to justify civilian deaths, economic collapse and the shutting-off of any alternate path for Russia’s future. The lack of resistance to his war domestically supports Putin’s line of thinking.
Needless to say, it is an absurd justification glorified in yet another Putin speech, no matter how drab and monotone. But unfortunately, this is what the Russian Army is fighting and dying for, nothing more.
The true tragedy for Russia is that as the Russian people were honouring the sacrifice involved in their great victory over the Nazis in WWII, their government has today made them the Nazis of modern Europe – brutal, contemptuous of the value of human (especially civilian) life, led by a paranoid and delusional dictator, fed by fantastic untruths about blood and soil, and governed by people who are at heart criminals unconstrained by morality or humanity. This is Ukraine’s tragedy also of course, and may yet be ours, but above all it is Russia’s – a proud nation now the object of the world’s contempt.
Criminals indeed, and murderous ones. I’ve just finished reading Bill Browders second book the events following the murder of his lawyer Sergei, that led to the Magnitsky Act. Shocking to see how the Russian “Empire” conducts itself under Putin. I wish the Russian people would wake up but, like North Korea, they mostly see life in one direction.
Sounds like George W Bush junior and his “Saddam has WMD & did 9/11” all over again.
Why do we tolerate such cretins?
Indeed. At least we’re allowed to ask the question. I was one of 750,000 on the anti Iraq-war protest March in London (biggest in it’s history), and none of us went to jail for it
Here’s the speech that Mr Hess forgot to link to, so people can make up their own minds:
Transcript of President Putin’s Victory Day 2022 speech (from kremlin.ru)
President of Russia Vladimir Putin:
“Fellow Russian citizens,
Comrade soldiers and seamen, sergeants and sergeant majors, midshipmen and warrant officers,
Comrade officers, generals and admirals,
I congratulate you on the Day of Great Victory!
The defence of our Motherland when its destiny was at stake has always been sacred. It was the feeling of true patriotism that Minin and Pozharsky’s militia stood up for the Fatherland, soldiers went on the offensive at the Borodino Field and fought the enemy outside Moscow and Leningrad, Kiev and Minsk, Stalingrad and Kursk, Sevastopol and Kharkov.
Today, as in the past, you are fighting for our people in Donbass, for the security of our Motherland, for Russia.
May 9, 1945 has been enshrined in world history forever as a triumph of the united Soviet people, its cohesion and spiritual power, an unparalleled feat on the front lines and on the home front.
Victory Day is intimately dear to all of us. There is no family in Russia that was not burnt by the Great Patriotic War. Its memory never fades. On this day, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the heroes march in an endless flow of the Immortal Regiment. They carry photos of their family members, the fallen soldiers who remained young forever, and the veterans who are already gone.
We take pride in the unconquered courageous generation of the victors, we are proud of being their successors, and it is our duty to preserve the memory of those who defeated Nazism and entrusted us with being vigilant and doing everything to thwart the horror of another global war.
Therefore, despite all controversies in international relations, Russia has always advocated the establishment of an equal and indivisible security system which is critically needed for the entire international community.
Last December we proposed signing a treaty on security guarantees. Russia urged the West to hold an honest dialogue in search for meaningful and compromising solutions, and to take account of each other’s interests. All in vain. NATO countries did not want to heed us, which means they had totally different plans. And we saw it.
Another punitive operation in Donbass, an invasion of our historic lands, including Crimea, was openly in the making. Kiev declared that it could attain nuclear weapons. The NATO bloc launched an active military build-up on the territories adjacent to us.
Thus, an absolutely unacceptable threat to us was steadily being created right on our borders. There was every indication that a clash with neo-Nazis and Banderites backed by the United States and their minions was unavoidable.
Let me repeat, we saw the military infrastructure being built up, hundreds of foreign advisors starting work, and regular supplies of cutting-edge weaponry being delivered from NATO countries. The threat grew every day.
Russia launched a pre-emptive strike at the aggression. It was a forced, timely and the only correct decision. A decision by a sovereign, strong and independent country.
The United States began claiming their exceptionalism, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, thus denigrating not just the entire world but also their satellites, who have to pretend not to see anything, and to obediently put up with it.
But we are a different country. Russia has a different character. We will never give up our love for our Motherland, our faith and traditional values, our ancestors’ customs and respect for all peoples and cultures.
Meanwhile, the West seems to be set to cancel these millennia-old values. Such moral degradation underlies the cynical falsifications of World War II history, escalating Russophobia, praising traitors, mocking their victims’ memory and crossing out the courage of those who won the Victory through suffering.
We are aware that US veterans who wanted to come to the parade in Moscow were actually forbidden to do so. But I want them to know: We are proud of your deeds and your contribution to our common Victory.
We honour all soldiers of the allied armies – the Americans, the English, the French, Resistance fighters, brave soldiers and partisans in China – all those who defeated Nazism and militarism.
Donbass militia alongside with the Russian Army are fighting on their land today, where princes Svyatoslav and Vladimir Monomakh’s retainers, solders under the command of Rumyantsev and Potemkin, Suvorov and Brusilov crushed their enemies, where Great Patriotic War heroes Nikolai Vatutin, Sidor Kovpak and Lyudmila Pavlichenko stood to the end.
I am addressing our Armed Forces and Donbass militia. You are fighting for our Motherland, its future, so that nobody forgets the lessons of World War II, so that there is no place in the world for torturers, death squads and Nazis.
Today, we bow our heads to the sacred memory of all those who lost their lives in the Great Patriotic War, the memories of the sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends.
We bow our heads to the memory of the Odessa martyrs who were burned alive in the House of Trade Unions in May 2014, to the memory of the old people, women and children of Donbass who were killed in atrocious and barbaric shelling by neo-Nazis. We bow our heads to our fighting comrades who died a brave death in the righteous battle – for Russia.
I declare a minute of silence.
(A minute of silence.)
The loss of each officer and soldier is painful for all of us and an irretrievable loss for the families and friends. The government, regional authorities, enterprises and public organisations will do everything to wrap such families in care and help them. Special support will be given to the children of the killed and wounded comrades-in-arms. The Presidential Executive Order to this effect was signed today.
I wish a speedy recovery to the wounded soldiers and officers, and I thank doctors, paramedics, nurses and staff of military hospitals for their selfless work. Our deepest gratitude goes to you for saving each life, oftentimes sparing no thought for yourselves under shelling on the frontlines.
Soldiers and officers from many regions of our enormous Motherland, including those who arrived straight from Donbass, from the combat area, are standing now shoulder-to-shoulder here, on Red Square.
We remember how Russia’s enemies tried to use international terrorist gangs against us, how they tried to seed inter-ethnic and religious strife so as to weaken us from within and divide us. They failed completely.
Today, our warriors of different ethnicities are fighting together, shielding each other from bullets and shrapnel like brothers.
This is where the power of Russia lies, a great invincible power of our united multi-ethnic nation.
You are defending today what your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought for. The wellbeing and security of their Motherland was their top priority in life. Loyalty to our Fatherland is the main value and a reliable foundation of Russia’s independence for us, their successors, too.
Those who crushed Nazism during the Great Patriotic War showed us an example of heroism for all ages. This is the generation of victors, and we will always look up to them.
Glory to our heroic Armed Forces!
For Russia! For Victory!
Thank you for putting this up. Now we can decide for ourselves.
You bet we can.
This is not analysis, this is propaganda. What is the point?
I agree. Make no mistake, I’m on the side of the Ukrainians and the West when the tanks begin to roll, but to describe Putin’s view of the situation as an “alternate reality” is just name-calling, and deeply ignorant of the history of these borderlands.
Explicitly saying that a nation of 40 million does not really exist isn’t just an alternate point of view.
It is by definition an “alternate reality”–and opens the door to war crimes and worse.
You are of course referring to Putin’s speech, his security & defence services’ predictions for the special operation, and the SO itself. I quite agree.
No, I’m referring to Maximilian Hess’s opinion piece.
I know. I was just offering you an off-ramp.
Post-modern word babble.
The word “propaganda” only really enters the picture when there is no ability to counter it with alternatives. Otherwise it is one of many “points of view.”
That you can say that on the comments section rather proves that the piece is not propaganda–whereas Putin’s certainly is.
Sorry we all get a little too “post-modern” at times.
Fair point. My impatience with Hess’s opinions (I was wanting unbiased analysis) got the better of me.
Just to be clear: I accept my use of the word propaganda with regard to this article was a mistake, but I am not sure that Putin’s speech is propaganda at all.
For example Hess refers to Putin’s “in Kyiv they considered acquiring nuclear weapons” as a blatant falsehood. How can Hess possibly know this is true or false ? Because Zelensky says so ? That’s ridiculous.
This article is not analysis, it is polemic. The significance of todays victory day speech is something that has been dream’t up by western commentators. Why does Hess write that the speech was ‘disappointing’ ?.What did he want Putin to say?…For months now we have been hearing from everyone in the western media that Putin wants to achieve XYZ in time for victory day, all of which has just been imagined or made up.
Imagined, made up? How about a less partisan description like conjecture?
Conjecture is still a pejorative word. How about hypothesis? Many Western commentators formulated a hypothesis that Putin would announce something significant on victory day. Their hypothesis was proven wrong on victory day.
Since some Putin Verstehers are dubious about just who’s bombing civilians in Ukraine, one must then ask: who blew up the theater in Mariupol? Who just blew up the hotel in Odesa? Indeed, who is firing rockets at cities across the length and breadth of Ukraine?
The pattern is perfectly clear–and goes back to Syria.
The Russian strategy since at least Chechnya has been to attack the civilian population, not its military. The Russian Army’s hope is that, without civilian support, their opponent’s army will crumble.
Otherwise, one is simply repeating Rudolf Hess’ defence of Hitler:
“Hitler’s victims hypnotized him to murder them.”
‘Indeed, who is firing rockets at cities across the length and breadth of Ukraine?’
Both Russia and Ukraine have been shelling urban areas. this is how ground offensives work. The Ukrainians have been shelling the donbass since 2014. check out the hashtag #childrenofdonbass on twitter. Many thousands of ethnic Russians have been killed by Ukrainian missiles since 2014
Certain elements incorporated into the Ukrainian army have seem to have no problem in killing innocent Ethnic Russians also.
To point these things out does not make me a Putin Versteher.
But it was his forces killed around 60 children, likely all Russian speakers, when bombing a Luhansk school just 48 hours prior.
In what alternate reality do Russians bomb their own children?
Are you suggesting the Russians didn’t bomb the school in Bilohorivka
I’m suggesting it doesn’t make sense.
The only information i can find about this attack is that Zelensky and The Governor Of Luhansk Oblast said the ‘Russians did it’. The more i learn about Zelensky, the more i distrust him. I’m shocked that he is being made into a secular saint by the west.
If that bomb wasn’t dropped from a Russian plane then who did drop it?
I dont know. what evidence do you have that it was the Russians other than Zelensky said so? Did the governor of Luhansk see it with his own eyes?. The school in question is right on the front line of the battle of Donbas. I don’t believe anything coming from either side until its been properly verified. check out the report from reuters with regards to the governer of Luhansks account of the incident
check out the reuters report
‘Reuters could not immediately verify his account. There was no response from Moscow to the report.’
if Reuters cant say if it is true or false, neither can you or I.
Yes, it could have been either side, and the first casualty of war is the truth. However, Putin has form – targeting civilian infrastruture – blowing up a school, shelter, hospital, houses is right out of his playbook – Syria, Chechnya, Georgia. And then there is his creation and maintenance of a kleptocracy; the shutting down of all independent media; direct imprisonment for the mildest of protesters; the assassination of enemies; the transparent and weak justifications of de-nazification; the imposition of rank propaganda into schools etc etc etc. So I wonder why you seem keen to intellectualise support for, and give benefit of the doubt to this man and his cronies.
I do not support Putin, neither do i give him the benefit of the doubt. Please re-read what i have written. I have stated that i don’t believe anything from any side(the opposite of giving the benefit of doubt). I judge each incident on its own merits.
Are Reuters giving Putin the ‘benefit of the doubt’ also?
Any one who brings into question anything claimed by the Ukrainians/Zelensky is immediately accused of supporting Putin.
I simply don’t trust Zelensky. I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth. I am shocked at the level of blind trust and misguided admiration that is given to this man. Anyone with an internet connection can dig into to the dubious side of his character and his cronies.
He’s the right man in the right place at the right time as far as most Ukrainians are concerned. That’s all that matters. Conversely, Putin’s reign is the worst thing to happen to Russia since the birth of Stalin.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe