Anders Åslund: Putin’s Victory Parade Actually Foreshadowed Defeat

Putin’s May 9 “Victory Parade” speech was as pathetic as it gets, marking the anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany with yet more celebration of dictatorship and external aggression.

Even the parade was pitiful. It was not only short in duration but also in content: The normal 20,000 troops on parade reduced to only 8,000, mostly cadets, students of military universities padded out with auxiliary paramilitary forces – and the rows and columns were not very straight.

The military hardware was minimal, appropriately led by one single ancient T-34, just as if Putin wanted to admit that he has almost run out of kit. The traditional air show was canceled as were several other standard events.

Before May 9, the Kremlin had only announced the presence of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic. Yet, Putin persuaded the four other Central Asian presidents, Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia to attend as well. They all looked uncomfortable on the stand. Apparently, Lukashenka had to depart to the airport in an ambulance. Did he unwisely drink tea with Putin?

The main surprise was that Putin actually appeared live in public. I had expected that he would cancel the whole parade with reference to the recent drone attack on the Kremlin. That he did not do so is perhaps more evidence that it was, indeed, a Kremlin false flag operation. He looked older than before but he shook hands with delighted war veterans.

 Putin’s speech lasted for only a few minutes and was as aggressive and conspiratorial as if his national security adviser Nikolai Patrushev had written it. Nor did it hang together. It was supposed to commemorate the victory of 1945, but it focused on the so-called “special military operation,” in which Russia can claim no victory. As usual, Putin produced one lie after the other, so let me point them out and refute them, so that you can see what a mendacious character Putin is. I use the official Kremlin translation.

Putin stated: “A real war is being waged against our country again.” No, it is Russia that has started a war against peaceful Ukraine. Before you acknowledge this elementary fact, no serious person will talk to you.

“[But] we have countered international terrorism”. No, you are the terrorists. Russia is killing thousands of innocent civilians and bombing hospitals, schools and residential buildings. That is international terrorism.

“[We] will defend the people of Donbas and safeguard our security.” You are not defending but repressing the people of Donbas; the people of Donbas are Ukrainians; Donbas is unrelated to Russia’s security.

Then, Putin resorts to standard Soviet hypocritical tropes: “For us, for Russia, there are no unfriendly or hostile nations either in the west or in the east. Just like the vast majority of people on the planet, we want to see a peaceful, free and stable future.” No, since 1999 you, Vladimir Putin, are the world’s foremost warmonger.

Next, Putin turns to claims straight out of the 1930s fascist playbook: “the Western globalist elites … pit nations against each other and split societies, provoke bloody conflicts and coups, sow hatred, Russophobia, aggressive nationalism, destroy family and traditional values”. Sorry, it is you, Putin, who have attacked peaceful Ukraine. Is that so difficult to acknowledge?

In order to be even cruder, Putin becomes even more vague: “We see how in certain countries they ruthlessly and cold-bloodedly destroy memorials to Soviet soldiers … create a real cult of the Nazis”. I beg your pardon! What are you talking about? Russians have built monuments to Stalin, but nobody has built monuments to Hitler. Clean out all your monuments of Lenin and other terrorists before you complain about others!

Even more vaguely, Putin accuses some unknown power for “cynically and blatantly preparing a new march on Russia and who brought together neo-Nazi scum from around the world for this.” He continues: “Their goal … is to break apart and destroy our country … to completely break down the system of global security and international law”. But it is you, Putin, who have violated all post-World War II agreements! Don’t accuse others of what only you (and Saddam Hussein) have done.

Finally, Putin arrives at the real topic of his speech, Ukraine: “Boundless ambition, arrogance and impunity inevitably lead to tragedies. This is the reason for the catastrophe the Ukrainian people are going through.” Unintentionally, Putin made a true statement. He showed “boundless ambition, arrogance and impunity,” when he attacked Ukraine, but he incorrectly apportioned that to the Ukrainians “have become hostage (sic) to the coup d’état and the resulting criminal regime of its Western masters, collateral damage in the implementation of their cruel and self-serving plans.” Sorry, it is Russia, not the West, that kills Ukrainians.

Inadvertently, Putin used the term “Ukrainian people” (?????????? ?????), which indicates some progress: He acknowledged that the Ukrainian nation and its people exist. He also stated that “all the peoples of the USSR contributed to our common Victory,” though he carefully avoided mentioning the Ukrainian people in that context.

After that, Putin jumps back: “We take pride in the participants in the special military operation, all those fighting on the frontlines, those who deliver supplies to the front and save the wounded under fire. Your combat activities now are of paramount importance. The country’s security depends on you today, as does the future of our statehood and our people.” As Putin has stated before, he thinks that Russia’s security is now in danger, obviously because of his unwise and immoral decision to invade Ukraine. He should say that!

So few words, so many lies and such absurdity! Putin would have been better off without a parade and speech, but he showed how weak he and his regime are. The feared moment of Putin’s Victory Parade passed without any serious incident. The best that can be said about this speech is that Putin realized that he does not have much to say.

Anders Åslund is the author of “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy.”

This text was first published in Kyiv Post