A Sobering ‘Victory Day’ for Russia
Today’s Russian holiday is being met with ferocious resistance from the neighboring state it chose to invade.
Today, May 9, is Victory Day in Russia. It commemorates the signing in 1945, at Soviet Premier Josef Stalin’s insistence, of a surrender agreement by German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel in Berlin in 1945. (A day earlier, German General Alfred Jodl had signed surrender papers in Reims, France, which was good enough for the rest of the Allied Powers, and which is why we observe VE Day on May 8, a day earlier than the Russians observe their Victory Day.)
Those signings marked the end of the war in Europe, and the end of the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War with Nazi Germany, a war whose human costs were appalling. It’s estimated that 27 million Soviets — only about a third of them military personnel — lost their lives. For perspective, the U.S. lost about 420,000, nearly all of them warriors.
Thus, while Western history books tell us that the D-Day invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944, was the turning point of the war, the Russian people have been steeped in a far different history. It’s true that the Allied invasion of occupied France opened up a new front against the Nazis, but by that time, the Russian people had been hard at war with their Wehrmacht invaders for three bloody years at places like Leningrad, Stalingrad, Moscow, and Kursk.
So it goes.
And so it was today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who commemorated the day with a brief speech while he continues to wage a brutal war of Nazi-like aggression against neighboring Ukraine. As the Washington Examiner’s Jamie McIntyre reports:
Moscow’s Red Square was filled today with the usual pomp despite the circumstances in Ukraine, where Russian troops remain mired in the deadly ebb and flow of artillery battles in the eastern Donbas region … [while] a defiant Putin accused NATO and the West of “preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea,” and said he had no choice but to launch his “special military operation” to defend “the motherland” from “the revival of Nazism.”
“In Kyiv they were talking about the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons — the NATO block started actively developing territories adjacent to us and therefore, in a planned way, were creating an absolutely unacceptable threat immediately next to our borders,” Putin said. “Russia repelled this aggression in a timely way. It was the only correct decision.”
So, according to Putin, the West is engaging in nuclear blackmail, and the “revival of Nazism” is taking place under the leadership of Ukraine’s democratically elected Jewish president. Uh-huh.
As for the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenksy, he had a different message for his people as he strolled down an empty street in Kyiv, sleeves rolled up, dressed in his customary olive drab: “On the Day of Victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory. The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win,” Zelensky said. “There are no shackles that can bind our free spirit. There is no occupier who can take root in our free land. There is no invader who can rule over our free people. Sooner or later we win.”
Elsewhere in Ukraine, in the obliterated city of Mariupol, the last civilians were successfully evacuated from the massive steel plant there, leaving only Ukrainian troops in its maze of underground tunnels. Their numbers are estimated to be around 1,000, and a deputy commander there said they’ll fight to the death.
This may be Victory Day in Russia, but Vladimir Putin is a long, long way from victory in Ukraine.
Postscript: The top American diplomat to Ukraine, Kristina Kvien, returned to its capital city of Kyiv yesterday, V-E Day, for the first time since the Russian invasion. This appears to be in keeping with a pledge made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month to reopen the U.S. embassy there. To which we say: Better late than never. By mid-last month, at least 17 countries had already returned their diplomats to Kyiv. Leave it to the Biden administration, like the Obama administration before it, to lead from behind.