Red Soviet flags and orange and black striped military ribbons are on display in Russian cities and towns. Festive concerts are held in the districts. Veteran groups lay flowers at the monuments of the Great Patriotic War, as is known in the country of the Second World War.
At first glance, preparations for Monday’s Victory Day celebrations, dedicated to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, seem like never before.
But the mood this year is completely different, as Russian troops are fighting and dying again.
And this battle, which is now the 11th week, is going on in neighboring Ukraine, against what the government falsely called a campaign against the “Nazis”.
Pride and patriotism, commonly associated with Russia’s most important holiday, marked by a huge parade of soldiers and military equipment across Red Square, are mixed with apprehension and anxiety over what this year’s Victory Day may bring.
Some Russians fear that President Vladimir Putin is using this to say that what the Kremlin previously called a “special military operation” in Ukraine will now be a full-fledged war that will bring about extensive mobilization of troops to strengthen Russian forces.
“I don’t remember if the holiday of May 9 was expected with such anxiety,” historian Ivan Kuryla wrote on Facebook.
The head of Ukrainian intelligence Kirill Budanov said that Moscow was secretly preparing such a plan. Britain’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in an interview with LBC Radio that Putin “laid the groundwork to say, ‘Look, now it’s a war against the Nazis, and I need more people.’
The Kremlin denies the existence of such plans, calling the reports “untrue” and “nonsense.”
Asked by the Associated Press on Friday whether rumors of mobilization could spoil the mood for Victory Day, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “nothing casts a shadow” on “holy day, the most important day” for Russians.
However, human rights organizations report a surge in calls from people asking about laws concerning mobilization and their rights in the event of an order to join the military.
“Questions about who and how can be called have started to come through our hotline on the rights of conscripts and the military,” said Pavel Chikov, founder of the Agora legal aid group, in a telegram exchange program.
Russian state television has intensified patriotic rhetoric. Announcing the military operation on February 24, Putin said it was aimed at “demilitarizing” Ukraine to remove Russia’s military threat from “neo-Nazis.”
A recent TV commentary said Putin’s words were “not an abstract thing or a slogan” and praised Russia’s success in Ukraine, although Moscow’s troops have threatened, with only minor progress in recent weeks.
Ukraine, which has a democratically elected Jewish president who lost relatives during the Holocaust, and the West have condemned the remarks as a fictitious cover-up for a brutal act of aggression.
But many Russians, fed a constant diet of official narrative, encouraged their troops by comparing them to “our grandfathers” who fought the Germans.
People’s support in Russia for the war in Ukraine is difficult to assess in a country that has seen persistent repression against journalists in recent years: independent media have closed and state-controlled television is ubiquitous.
A recent poll by a respected independent Levada Center found that 82% of Russians remain concerned about the military campaign in Ukraine. The vast majority of them – 47% – are concerned about the deaths of civilians and Russian soldiers in the war, as well as destruction and suffering. Only 6% of those concerned about the war said they were concerned about the alleged presence of “Nazis” and “fascists” in Ukraine.
“A large part of the population is terrified, and even those who support the war are in a permanent psychological militant state of eternal nightmare,” – said in a recent comment political scientist Andrei Kolesnikov.
The government’s military promotion campaign uses a distinctive black and orange St. George ribbon, which is traditionally associated with Victory Day. The letter “Z” has become a symbol of conflict, adorning buildings, posters and billboards across Russia, and many of its shapes use the colors and pattern of the ribbon.
In recent days, rallies in support of troops singing songs from the 1940s have taken place near World War II memorials.
One of the officials suggested that the participants of the Victory Day rally show photos of soldiers currently fighting in Ukraine. Usually on the holiday, Russians carry portraits of their relatives who fought in World War II to honor those who were in the so-called “Immortal Regiment” during the conflict in which the Soviet Union lost a staggering 27 million people.
Follow the coverage of the war in Ukraine in the AP: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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