President Vladimir Putin says his country will “firmly” defend Russia’s national interests, denouncing the return of “Russophobia” and warning of a revival of Nazism.
Putin’s speech on Sunday came at the start of an annual parade that sees military hardware roll through the streets of Moscow. More than 12,000 military personnel took part in the march, as well as some 190 pieces of military equipment and 76 fighter jets and helicopters.
The parade marked the 76th anniversary of victory in World War II over Nazi Germany.
“The Soviet people kept their sacred oath, defended the homeland, and freed the countries of Europe from the black plague,” Putin told the crowd.
“Russia consistently defends international law. At the same time, we will firmly defend our national interests to ensure the safety of our people.”
The Russian leader condemned what he called a creeping return of ideologies of the time, when “slogans of racial and national superiority, of anti-Semitism, and Russophobia became ever more cynical”.
“Unfortunately, many of the ideologies of the Nazis – those who were obsessed with the delusional theory of their exclusiveness – are again trying to be put into service,” Putin said.
Victory Day parades – which only became an annual event after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and have taken on increasing importance in projecting Russia’s renewed military might during Putin’s two decades in power – also took place in dozens of cities across the nation.
Tensions with the West
Sunday’s commemorations came as Russia in recent weeks has seen its diplomats expelled from a clutch of European countries over espionage scandals, while the United States and the European Union have levied new sanctions on Moscow over the treatment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny and allegations of hacking and cyberattacks.
Tensions have also soared over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which erupted after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and where Moscow is widely seen as backing pro-Russia separatists.
Clashes between the government and separatists have been intensifying since January in a conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
Russia last month amassed 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders and in Crimea, its biggest buildup since 2014, though it announced a drawdown in what many saw as a test for new US President Joe Biden.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Kyiv last week in a show of support for Ukraine before an expected summit between Putin and Biden next month.
On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy travelled with European diplomats to the pro-Russian breakaway eastern region of Lugansk to commemorate the end of WWII.