Ukraine Latest: Why Monday Could Be Critical For Putin's War

Russia will celebrate its annual holiday Victory Day at the beginning of next week – meaning the Kremlin might up the ante yet again.
Rehearsals for Victory Day are already underway in Russia
Rehearsals for Victory Day are already underway in Russia
Contributor via Getty Images

Russia is set to celebrate its national holiday Victory Day on Monday, and the West is worried that Vladimir Putin might use the occasion to declare all-out war.

More than two months since the invasion of Ukraine, it’s pretty clear that the Russian president’s planned offensive has not gone entirely to plan.

The strength of the Ukrainian resistance has repeatedly stunned Russian forces, leaving them lacking morale and even functioning equipment. Meanwhile, the country’s international reputation is in tatters as the war crime allegations mount.

However, Putin has only increased his aggressive rhetoric and evidently has no intention to back down, even in the face of defeat.

Now the highly symbolic Russian holiday Victory Day is just around the corner, is the Russian president about to take the barbaric war up a notch?

What is Victory Day?

Monday, May 9, will be the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Army’s victory over the Nazis in 1945. It is always honoured as a national holiday and with a military parade through Moscow, while other celebrations take place across the country.

The director of the Russia-Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, James Nixey, 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.”

Warplanes have already been seen practising flying over Moscow’s Red Square in the shape of the letter ‘Z’ – the pro-invasion symbol which has swept through Russia is recent weeks.

The Kremlin is also allegedly trying to make the conquered Ukrainian city of Mariupol – which has been completely destroyed by Russian shelling – the “centre of the celebrations”, according to the Ukrainian defence intelligence agency.

Russian military vehicles move along the street during the rehearsa
Russian military vehicles move along the street during the rehearsa
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

So why would Putin accelerate his plans on Monday?

Victory Day is a very symbolic day in Russia, so it would make sense for the Russian president to choose this occasion to step up his acts of aggression.

Putin has previously used the holiday to mobilise the nation for new battles and even laid the groundwork for tackling “the ideology of the Nazis” last year.

Russian state media has also suggested that the attacks on Ukraine are a continuation of the country’s mission from World War 2, as Putin has falsely but repeatedly claimed that Nazis lead Ukraine.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace warned last week that the Kremlin would see the national holiday as an excuse to champion greater violence against Ukraine.

He told LBC Radio:“I would not be surprised [...] 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’.”

Wallace pointed out that Putin has “failed in nearly all objectives” of the war, so “may seek to consolidate what he’s got” with a more aggressive declaration.

However, Wallace did warn that he had no intelligence suggesting such an announcement was on the horizon, but said that was an educated guess based on Putin’s previous comments.

Russia is also on the cusp of being hit with an oil embargo from the EU, and is struggling under the weight of other Western sanctions – meaning he is likely to be looking for a quick win to unite the public under him.

What might happen?

So far, Putin has described the invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation”, but he might use Victory Day to expand the scope of his aggression by declaring war on Nato for helping Ukraine.

As Wallace pointed out: “We have seen a number of statements from Putin about this becoming a war – ‘this is a proxy war’ – which it isn’t – and ‘Nazis are everywhere’, basically, they are not just in Ukraine.”

He continued: “I think he will try to move from his ’special operation’. He’s been rolling the pitch, laying the ground for being able to say, ’look this is now a war against Nazis and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder’.”

Wallace did point out though that he was not at all “rattled” by Putin’s threats towards Nato.

A Kremlin spokesperson also said on Wednesday that there was “no chance” he would declare war on the special occasion.

However, Russia also continues to deny that it is at war with Ukraine. It also refused to admit it planned to invade its European neighbour right up until its troops crossed the country’s borders on February 24.

Alternatively, Putin could renew his vicious attacks on Ukraine and enact Russia’s mobilisation law on Monday.

This means the Kremlin may assemble more troops to help make up for the 15,000 troops lost through extending conscription, and calling in reservists.

Martial law would then be announced to consolidate Putin’s power at the helm of the country while men of fighting age would be prevented from leaving Russia.

However, this is unlikely to be popular with the general public, and actually backfire, meaning Putin lost support for his attack on Ukraine.

He could also put the country’s economy on a war footing through full-scale mobilisation, or seek to consolidate Russia’s few successes.

To do this, he may annexe the breakaway Ukrainian territories of Lunhansk and Donetsk, push for the city of Odesa or declare full control over Mariupol.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said this week that there is “good reason to believe that the Russians will do everything they can to use” the occasion for propaganda.

“We’ve seen the Russians really double down on their propaganda efforts, probably, almost certainly, as a means to distract from their tactical and strategic failures on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

Could anything extra happen over the weekend?

The Ministry of Defence has not predicted any further aggression to unfold over the weekend, even though Russia’s ally Belarus always trains its troops en masse in May.

In its daily update, the MoD explained: “Russia will likely seek to inflate the threat posed to Ukraine by these exercises in order to fix Ukrainian forces in the North, preventing them from being committed to the battle for the Donbas.”

However, it added that any “threat to allies and partners” is not currently anticipated.


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