Why is Victory Day so important to Russia and Europe?

A military parade on Victory Day in Moscow's Red Square on May 9, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Russian service members marching during a military parade on Victory Day in Moscow's Red Square on May 9, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - On Monday (May 9), Russia marked the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany during World War II with parades of its military armaments in Moscow's Red Square, including fighter jet flyovers in a "Z" formation - the letter that has become a symbol of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin also made a speech that had been eagerly watched for the Kremlin's next moves in Ukraine, but offered little insight apart from stoking war rhetoric.

1. Why do Russia and Europe remember Victory Day on different days?

May 9 is when Russia commemorates the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, which Moscow calls the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, after the sacrifices of 27 million Soviet troops.

But Europe and their US allies commemorate the anniversary of the Allied forces' win as Victory in Europe (VE) Day a day earlier.

The unconditional surrender of the Adolf Hitler-led Nazis came into force at 11.01pm on May 8, 1945, which was May 9 in Moscow. Hence Russia celebrates the victory a day later.

2. What is the significance of Victory Day in Russia today?

While May 9 was initially inscribed in the country's annals as the day the Soviet Union overthrew the Nazi invaders in 1945, Russia's president has increasingly used this day to bolster his nationalistic ideologies of his country's role in liberating the world from Nazi Germany.

Russian military specialist Pavel Luzin told Al Jazeera that the Kremlin has "relied more and more on the WWII myth since 1995", when Russia's first elected president Boris Yeltsin made Victory Day parades an annual event.

Although this year's military display is expected to be less lavish than previous years, Monday's parade still saw Russia preparing some 10,000 troops and more than 120 pieces of military equipment, including tanks and missile launchers, for "a PR stunt" directed at Russia's population.

"In Russian cities and regional capitals we can see signs with the Victory Day symbol," online journal Riddle Russia's editor-in-chief Olga Irisova told the BBC. "Usually the signs say 9 May 1945 but this year it's 1945/2022, so they're trying to provide people with the idea that once again they're standing up to Nazis."

Russia has repeatedly justified its recent incursion into Ukraine as a "special military operation" aimed at the "demilitarisation and denazification" of Ukraine.

Observers had variously predicted that Mr Putin could expound ramping up war efforts by calling for a new offensive; celebrate victory in eastern Ukraine's Mariupol; or announce a mass mobilisation of Russian men to make up for heavy battlefield losses.

But the Russian president's 11-minute speech on the 75th day of the invasion offered no insight into his assessment of progress in the war, nor any indication of the Kremlin's next moves.

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day in Moscow's Red Square on May 9, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

3. How did the G-7 nations and Ukraine mark Victory Day?

Leaders of the Group of 7 (G-7) nations - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - held a virtual meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on the banning or phasing out Russian oil, in a bid to further economically isolate Russia.

"We remain united in our resolve that President Putin must not win his war against Ukraine. We owe it to the memory of all those who fought for freedom in the Second World War," the G-7 said in a statement after the meeting, adding that Putin's actions "bring shame on Russia and the historic sacrifices of its people".

Russia is a top oil exporter, with the International Energy Agency estimating that oil and gas revenues made up 45 per cent of the country's budget in 2021.

While halting oil purchases would adversely impact Moscow's economy, many countries are also dependent on Russian oil and may be vulnerable to a Russian oil ban.

In his nightly address since his country came under siege on Feb 24, President Zelensky denounced Russia's continued shelling in the east of Ukraine, including a strike on a school that he said killed 60 people.

Referring to Victory Day, he said: "Russia has forgotten everything that was important to the victors of World War II. Evil has returned, in a different uniform, under different slogans, but for the same purpose."

German chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has come under criticism domestically and abroad for coming across as lacking in support for Ukraine, reaffirmed Berlin's backing for Kyiv on VE Day.

He labelled the Kremlin's claims that the invasion was to combat Nazis "disgraceful", adding that it was Germany's historic duty to stand up to Russia's aggression.

Speaking during a televised address, he said: "There should not be a dictated peace by Russia. The Ukrainians will not accept that - and neither will we."

  • Sources: BBC, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Bloomberg

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