Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday defended the conflict in Ukraine during his annual “Victory Day” speech, calling on the country’s military to seek victory.
Defending Russia “when its fate is being decided has always been sacred,” he told a crowd in Moscow. “Today you are fighting for our people in Donbass, for the security of Russia, our homeland.”
There was speculation that the Russian leader would use Victory Day to announce that Russia had won in Ukraine or would announce an all-out war against the country, coming as Moscow’s forces have remained bogged down since the start of the Feb. 24 invasion. Putin, however, didn’t use the speech to announce an escalation in the conflict, and instead, he said that Western powers provoked Russia.
NATO, he alleged, started to actively develop military infrastructure in portions of Ukraine that are next to Russia, saying that such moves create a threat to Moscow’s sovereignty.
“We saw how the military infrastructure was unfolding, how hundreds of foreign advisers had begun to work there, with the most modern weapons being regularly delivered from NATO countries,” Putin said.
“The danger was growing every day. Russia offered a pre-emptive rebuff to the aggression … this was a forced, timely move and the only correct decision, one taken by a strong and independent country,” he added, arguing that the West and NATO were “preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea,” according to a translation.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Putin’s Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Monday that Kyiv’s forces would win and wouldn’t give up a single parcel of land.
“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,” Zelenskyy said, according to reports.
Ukraine is not holding any public events for May 9 for fear of shelling. Some places have imposed a hard curfew from Sunday evening to Tuesday morning.
In recent days, Russia has re-focused its military forces in eastern Ukraine, namely near Mariupol—where Russian forces have bombarded the Azovstal steel plant. Ukrainian officials said Monday that Russia has stepped up its missile strikes in other parts of the country.
Azovstal, a vast complex of buildings and underground tunnels, is the last holdout for Ukrainian troops in Mariupol, whose capture would help link Russian-seized areas in southern and eastern Ukraine and cut Ukraine off from the Azov Sea.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said Russian forces were now trying to advance in eastern Ukraine, where the situation was “difficult,” but had moved back from the city of Kharkiv, where a local official reported heavy Russian shelling.
Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times