Russia’s Victory Day Expected to Be Muted

From a Wall Street Journal story by Ann M. Simmons headlined “Russia’s Victory Day Expected to Be Muted This Year”:

Russia’s Victory Day, the country’s most important civic holiday, is this year shaping up to be a sober reminder of Moscow’s battlefield struggles in Ukraine as the threat of drone attacks and sabotage at home limits the scope of official commemorations and parades.

It is a stark difference from last May when Russian President Vladimir Putin used the celebrations marking the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany to rally public support for his decision for Russia to invade its smaller neighbor, declaring Russia “a great invincible power.”

But a drone attack on the Kremlin on Wednesday and a series of recent strikes on infrastructure deep inside Russia have exposed the country’s vulnerability and rattled many Russians.

At least 20 cities have decided to cancel parades and other public celebrations. Others have scaled them back.

Moscow accused the U.S. of organizing the Kremlin attack and said Ukraine carried it out. Washington and Kyiv have denied any involvement in the episode that analysts said sent a strong and embarrassing message that even the seat of government power isn’t untouchable.

The diminished commemorations present a challenge to Mr. Putin’s efforts to project strength and prime his population for the possibility of a long-running conflict after heavy losses in Ukraine and continued Western support for Kyiv.

Mr. Putin also faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court in connection with Russia’s forced deportation of children from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

“They want this war in Ukraine to look like a sacred war,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R. Politik, an independent analysis project on contemporary Russian politics. “A very important part of this narrative is an attempt to picture Russia as a geopolitical victim of international injustice, where Russia suffers from external aggression coming from the West, seeking to destroy the state.”

It is a message that resonates with the domestic audience. A review of Russian social media in recent days showed many people calling for tougher action against Ukraine—even a tactical nuclear strike—after the Kremlin attack. There is also a notable measure of fear over the possibility of a direct conflict with the U.S. and its allies.

Pro-Kremlin pundits and military analysts have warned that Ukraine could use the May 9 holiday to launch its widely anticipated spring offensive.

In an unprecedented move, Moscow’s Red Square was closed for two weeks beginning April 27 and the Kremlin has canceled the so-called Immortal Regiment procession that typically features relatives holding photos of loved ones who fought in World War II and other conflicts.

Last year, relatives of men fighting in Ukraine were invited to join the Immortal Regiment procession. The cancellation of this year’s march was likely a calculated move to avoid the risk of anything going off script, analysts said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the military parade in Moscow would be held as planned, with Mr. Putin in attendance.

The Defense Ministry said in March that more than 10,000 service personnel would parade on Red Square. But some analysts have questioned whether the numbers could match those of last year given Russia’s widely assumed troop deficit.

Russia’s Defense Ministry hasn’t published Ukraine war casualty numbers since last September when it put the tally of dead at 5,937. In February, the U.S. military, which keeps rough estimates on Russian casualties in Ukraine, put the figure for wounded and dead at roughly 180,000, though officials stressed such figures aren’t precise.

“For those who see a lack of military successes or view the conflict with Ukraine negatively, reducing or canceling the celebrations seems appropriate,” Mikhail Vinogradov, president of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, a research center, said in an email.

Posts on Russian social media indicated that some Russians were planning to stay indoors during the Victory Day festivities.

“If drones are already reaching the Kremlin, what to expect next?” one person wrote anonymously in the comments section of a story about the Kremlin drone attack featured by an online media outlet in Russia’s southwest city of Volgograd, where authorities said its parade would continue.

There are also voices of discontent over the progress of the war.

“Why were we told that everything was going according to plan?” asked one reader in Volgograd. “According to what plan is everything going, if the Kremlin is already being bombed?”

Ann M. Simmons is The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow Bureau Chief, where she covers the political, social and economic intricacies of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

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