Tuesday, May 10, 2022

What Vladimir Putin said in his victory speech and what he actually meant

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The Russian leader blamed the West for the war in Ukraine and claimed that NATO was preparing an invasion of our country.

President Vladimir Putin used his Victory Day speech in Russia to portray Moscow’s war in Ukraine as a forced response to Western policies, saying it was the only right decision as NATO drew ever closer to his country’s borders.

Mr Putin led celebrations on Monday as Russia marked Victory Day, which marked the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory at the hands of Nazi Germany in World War II.

In a speech in Moscow’s Red Square, he slammed the West and NATO, labeling them aggressors, saying they were “preparing an invasion of our country.”

Responding to the claims, Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said: “NATO countries would not attack Russia. Ukraine had no plans to attack Crimea.”

Mr Putin also expressed his sadness at the deaths of Russian soldiers in the Ukraine conflict, in a rare acknowledgment of the losses his country has suffered.

He did not mention Ukraine by name, gave no assessment of how the war was progressing, or how long it might last. There was no mention of the battle for Mariupol, where Ukrainian defenders holed up in the ruins of the Azovstal Steelworks still resisted the Russian onslaught.

Here, I look at what Mr. Putin said in his speech and what it means:

Mr Putin claimed that in December last year Russia urged the West to engage in honest dialogue to discuss security guarantees, but it was “all in vain”.

He said: “The NATO countries didn’t want to listen to us, which means they actually had very different plans and we saw that.

“Apparently, preparations were underway for another punitive operation in Donbass, the invasion of our historic lands, including Crimea,” he added, without providing any evidence.

He said NATO has created an “unacceptable threat” on Russia’s borders and the alliance has increased military infrastructure and arms supplies.

“[The level of] The danger increased every day. Russia pre-emptively repelled the aggressor,” he said, adding that the war in Ukraine was “inevitable, timely and the only right decision.”

For months before the war began on February 24, Russia had massed tens of thousands of its troops along its border with Ukraine, sparking global fears that an invasion was imminent.

Russia had repeatedly denied attacking Ukraine, but the West continued to send arms and military supplies to Kyiv in preparation to defend against a Russian attack.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, combat-ready NATO forces had already been stationed along the alliance’s eastern flank in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

NATO established this “enhanced forward presence” in 2017. Four battle groups of 5,000 soldiers were stationed in the above countries, and four more were created in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

This brings the total number of troops on NATO’s eastern border, which stretches from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, to around 40,000.

Mr Putin has used Kiev’s application for NATO membership as justification for launching his invasion of Ukraine, while claiming his goal is to “demilitarize and denazify” the country.

Commenting on the Russian leader’s 11-minute speech, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace accused Mr Putin of spreading “fairytale claims” when he falsely claimed that NATO was preparing to invade Russian land.

“If it weren’t so tragic, it would be amusing, but it’s not,” Wallace said.

“One of his claims is that he is surrounded. NATO makes up 6 percent of its land border. That’s not encirclement if only 6 percent of your land border is NATO.”

In his speech, Putin addressed directly Russian forces fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, where a conflict between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces has been going on since 2014.

“They are fighting for the Fatherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II,” Putin said. “So that there is no place in the world for executioners, criminals and Nazis.”

In early April, Russia suddenly withdrew its troops from near the capital of Kyiv in northern Ukraine as it focused on the Donbass region for a new offensive.

Moscow has close ties with pro-Russian rebels who control part of the Donbass – including the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – where a large part of the population speaks Russian.

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