Russia's Victory Day celebration, an annual event it holds on May 9 to mark the then Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II - an effort that saw the loss of at least 20 million Soviet lives - took on added significance, and irony, in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Russia's ongoing misadventure has already cost it the lives of several thousand soldiers, not to speak of a clutch of generals, in the face of determined Ukrainian forces who have thrived on intelligence from the United States and European military aid and equipment. President Vladimir Putin has nevertheless pressed on. While he seems to have reversed plans to take the capital Kyiv, his forces hold the key city of Mariupol and appear to now have a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula.
While these are not insignificant gains, the invasion is generally assessed to have faltered, if not stalled. It was thus a matter of some relief that Mr Putin ordered fewer soldiers at the May 9 showcase parade and, contrary to expectations, did not formally declare that his "special military operation" was indeed a war - a move that would have presaged mass mobilisation. Even so, the truculent display of nuclear missile launchers was a signal that he will go to any lengths to defend the invasion, which he said was "inevitable" given what he insisted was provocation from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and the influence of "neo-Nazis" in Ukraine. It is odd that Mr Putin does not see the stark irony of his words.