Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has said Russian forces in Ukraine were fighting for the future of their motherland in his annual address, marking victory over Nazi Germanyin World War Two.
Despite rumours he would make a major announcement, his speech stuck largely to defending Russia’s invasion.
He tied the war in Ukraine to victory in 1945, blaming the West and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) for rejecting security demands.
Almost 10 weeks into the invasion, civilian casualties continued to mount.
Some 60 civilians were feared dead in the eastern town of Bilohorivka, after a Russian attack on a school where people were trying to escape bombardment.
Flanked by military top brass, Russia’s leader spoke of Ukrainians as fascists, repeating his false claim that the democratic government in Kyiv was run by neo-Nazis.
Defending the motherland had always been sacred, he said, referring to the eastern region which was now the main focus of Russia’s assault: “Today you are fighting for our people in Donbas, for the security of Russia, our homeland.”
He also made unfounded allegations against NATO and Ukraine and described the invasion as a pre-emptive rebuff: “They were preparing a punishing operation in Donbas to intrude on our historic lands. In Kyiv they were saying they might get nuclear weapons and NATO started exploring the lands close to us, and that became an obvious threat to us and our borders.”
Ukrainian presidential official, Mykhailo Podoliak, later responded, tweeting that there were no rational grounds for the war: “NATO countries were not going to attack Russia. Ukraine did not plan to attack Crimea”.
There had been speculation that Russia’s president may be considering a change of military strategy; either a full declaration of war, rather than the current so-called special military operation, or a mobilisation of Russian men to boost the armed forces.
Instead, he said he was signing a decree for families of the dead and wounded in Ukraine to receive special support.
There was a minute of silence, including for the fallen in Ukraine, and he ended his 11-minute address with the words: “Glory to our armed forces – for Russia, for victory, hurrah”, at which the assembled forces responded with a big cheer. -BBC