MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin will travel on Thursday to the Russian city formerly known as Stalingrad to commemorate the Soviets’ defeat of the Nazis in a decisive World War II battle, an anniversary that the Kremlin is sure to use to try to rally domestic support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin said that Mr Putin would deliver a speech at a “celebratory concert” planned on Thursday in the city, now known as Volgograd.
He will also hold an on-camera meeting with members of patriotic and youth groups, the Kremlin said, signalling that the Russian president was likely to make some of his most extended public remarks since December.
Stalingrad – the turning point in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union’s fight against the Nazis in World War II – holds totemic significance for Russians as a symbol of wartime suffering, sacrifice and heroism.
In 1943, the Soviets reversed the tide of Germany’s invasion there after a 200-day battle that cost hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians their lives.
For Mr Putin, the symbolism is a central trope in his message to Russians to push them to support his war in Ukraine, with the Kremlin’s propaganda falsely describing the Ukrainians as modern-day Nazis and twisting reality to describe the Russian invasion as a defensive war.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Mr Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that Mr Putin would hold a meeting to discuss the consequences of “bombardment by Nazi formations from Ukraine” in Russia’s border regions.
In a meeting with World War II veterans last month, Mr Putin reprised his description of Ukraine’s current government as carrying on the legacy of the Nazis of World War II.
“The neo-Nazis who have gained ground and are running the show in Ukraine,” Mr Putin claimed in the January meeting, must be punished for carrying out “crimes against civilians”.
“It is essential to record everything they are doing now, especially to civilians,” he said, falsely drawing a parallel with Nazi crimes in World War II.
The Kremlin said that Mr Putin’s speech on Thursday would come at a concert commemorating the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, after he lays a wreath at a memorial museum. He last delivered a speech at a major public event in September on Red Square in Moscow, celebrating Russia’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions.
Ukraine has dealt Moscow further military setbacks since then, forcing a Russian retreat in November from the city of Kherson. Mr Putin is also facing pressure because of heavy casualties in fierce fighting around the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, as well as the West’s pledge to provide battle tanks to Ukraine.
But Mr Putin appears likely to use his remarks on Thursday to insist that Russia will stay the course despite its travails. Asked on Wednesday about the consequences of new Western arms supplies to Ukraine, Mr Peskov said they would lead to “an increase in the level of escalation”.
“This will demand additional efforts from us,” Mr Peskov said. Using the Kremlin’s euphemistic term for the invasion, he added: “But, again, this will not change the course of events. The special military operation will continue.” NYTIMES