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While Putin welcomes Victory Day, the war in Ukraine is not over – Chicago Tribune

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Zaporozhye, Ukraine – Russian President Vladimir Putin used his country’s biggest patriotic holiday on Monday to justify his war in Ukraine again, but did not even declare a limited victory or signal where the conflict was heading as his forces pushed forward without signs of progress.

The Russian leader watched the Victory Parade in Moscow’s Red Square, which marched in uniform and demonstrated military equipment to commemorate the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in 1945.

But his long-awaited speech did not offer a new understanding of how he intends to save a difficult war, and instead he adhered to claims that Ukraine posed a threat to Russia, despite Moscow’s nuclear strength far outnumbered and firepower.

“The danger is growing every day,” Putin said. “Russia has given a preventive response to aggression. It was a forced, timely and the only right decision. “

He shied away from the battlefield, not mentioning the potentially key battle for the vital southern port of Mariupol and not even uttering the word “Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, intense fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine, the important Black Sea port of Odessa in the south was bombed again, and Russian troops tried to finish off Ukrainian defenders who had recently been stationed at a steel plant in Mariupol.

Putin has long resented NATO’s eastward penetration of the former Soviet republics, and on Monday argued that Russia should have invaded Ukraine before the “inevitable” clash. Ukrainian leaders and their Western supporters deny that Kyiv or NATO pose any threat.

As he has always done, Putin has falsely portrayed the fighting as a battle with Nazism, thus linking the war to what many Russians consider their best time: a triumph over Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War.

He also sought to portray the ongoing offensive for control of the Donbass in the east – in the spotlight of Moscow after an unsuccessful attempt to storm the capital Kiev – as a battle on Russia’s “historic lands”. He has long sought to deny Ukraine’s own 1,000-year history.

However, progress in the east has been slow, and many analysts have suggested that Putin could use his speech to declare victory – potentially in Mariupol – to counter dissatisfaction with Russia’s great sacrifices and the punitive effects of Western sanctions at home.

Others speculated that he could declare hostilities a war, not just a “special military operation,” and order a nationwide mobilization with a call for reserves to replenish exhausted ranks for the protracted conflict.

No step has been announced.

Critics say the speech overlooked some of Putin’s awkward realities: because the campaign in Ukraine is faltering, he has not asked Russians to accept sacrifices to withstand sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

He also left unanswered the question of whether Russia would gather more forces in the face of significant losses and how.

“Without concrete steps to create a new force, Russia cannot wage a protracted war, and the clock is ticking for the failure of their army in Ukraine,” Phillips P. O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at St Andrews University in Scotland, wrote on Twitter.

Despite Russia’s efforts to crack down on dissent, anti-war sentiment is evident. Several scattered protesters were detained across the country on Victory Day, and editors of a pro-Kremlin media outlet staged a riot, summarizing several dozen stories criticizing Putin and the invasion.

In Warsaw, anti-war protesters sprayed the Russian ambassador to Poland with what appeared to be red paint when he arrived at the cemetery to honor Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.

When Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, air raids sounded again in the Ukrainian capital. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his Victory Day address that his country would eventually defeat the Russians.

“Ukraine will soon have two Victory Days,” he said in the video. He added: “We are fighting for freedom, for our children, and so we will win.”

Russia has about 97 battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, mostly in the east and south, slightly more than last week, according to a senior U.S. official who discussed the Pentagon’s assessment on condition of anonymity. According to the Pentagon, each unit has about 1,000 troops.

The official said that in general, Russia’s efforts in the Donbass in recent days have not made significant progress and continue to face fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces.

The Ukrainian military warned of a high probability of missile strikes around the holiday, and in some cities imposed a curfew or warned people not to gather in public places.

More than 60 people were killed last weekend after Russian bombing destroyed a Ukrainian school used as a shelter in the eastern village of Belagorovka, Ukrainian officials said.

With the war going on in the 11th week, Russia was perhaps closest to victory in Mariupol. A U.S. official said there were about 2,000 Russian troops near Mariupol, and the city was being attacked by air strikes. It is estimated that about 2,000 Ukrainian defenders are being held near the metallurgical plant, the last stronghold of the city’s resistance.

The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to complete a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula and free troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas. It would also give the Kremlin much-needed success.

Odessa has also been increasingly bombed in recent days. Ukrainian officials said on Monday Russia fired four cruise missiles at the city from Crimea. It says that civilians were not injured, but did not specify what was affected.

The war in a country long known as the “breadbasket of Europe” has disrupted global food supplies.

“I saw bunkers full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export,” Charles Michel, president of the European Council, tweeted after a visit to Odessa. “This much-needed food has run out due to the Russian war and the blockade of Black Sea ports. It has dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries. “

Gambrel reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Esitsa Fish in Bakhmut, David Keitan in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanov in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv and AP staff around the world.

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