May 9, known as “Victory Day” inside Russia, commemorates the country’s defeat of the Nazis in 1945. It is marked by a military parade in Moscow, and Russian leaders traditionally stand on the tomb of Vladimir Lenin in Red Square to observe it.
The Victory Day parade was occasionally marked in the Soviet era and revived by President Boris Yeltsin for the 50th anniversary in 1995, but it was Vladimir Putin in 2008 who made it an annual event featuring military hardware.
Russian identity has been largely created with Victory Day in the background, with schoolbooks and history books focusing on Russia as Europe’s wartime liberators.
In an intelligence update, the UK Ministry of Defence stated: “The renewed effort by Russia to secure Azovstal and complete the capture of Mariupol is likely linked to the upcoming 9 May Victory Day commemorations and Putin’s desire to have a symbolic success in Ukraine.”
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and since then Putin has insisted that his troops are carrying out a “special military operation” instead of a war.
But speculation is growing that this could change in the coming days.
Western officials believe Putin could formally declare war on Ukraine as soon as May 9, a symbolic day for Russia, paving the way for him to step up his campaign.
James Nixey, director of the Russia-Eurasia Programme at Chatham House told CNN: “May 9 is designed to show off to the home crowd, to intimidate the opposition and to please the dictator of the time.”
Western officials have long believed that Putin would leverage the symbolic significance and propaganda value of the day to announce either a military achievement in Ukraine, a major escalation of hostilities, or both.
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The Russian president has a keen eye for symbolism, having launched the invasion of Ukraine the day after Defender of the Fatherland Day, another crucial military day in Russia.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said last week that the Moscow parade – commemorating the defeat of the Nazis and end of World War Two – might be used to drum up support for a mass mobilisation of troops and renewed push into Ukraine.
He told LBC Radio: “I would not be surprised, and I don’t have any information about this, that he is probably going to declare on this May Day that ‘we are now at war with the world’s Nazis and we need to mass mobilise the Russian people’.”
Ukrainian politician Alyona Shkrum told the BBC she was expecting things to become more difficult alongside Russia’s victory day celebrations.
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