Russia’s annual Victory Day, celebrated on May 9, arrives this year with the shadow of war in Ukraine looming over it.
The holiday commemorates Russia’s World War II triumph with a patriotic display of raw military power: Troops parade through Moscow’s Red Square alongside military hardware including intercontinental ballistic missile launchers. President Vladimir Putin has stood at the center of celebrations since 1999, either as president or prime minister, and has been joined by Soviet war veterans.
But as this year’s parade approaches, the military pomp and pageantry will contrast starkly with the hard-fought battles and setbacks the Russian military is reportedly experiencing in Ukraine — leaving some experts wondering how Putin will be able to present Russia’s stalled invasion as a success on Victory Day.
Although Nazi Germany ended all its military operations at 23:01 Central European Time (5:01 p.m. ET) on May 8, 1945, Russia celebrated victory on May 9 because the change in time zone meant it came early that morning for them. Other former Soviet nations and some Eastern European nations do likewise.
For the former Soviet Union, the victory parade that followed was “very important because it gave it the status of world power, so they were celebrating that glory,” said Thornike Gordadze, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank based in London.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent economic hardship in Russia, Putin took office and tried to make the defeat of Nazism the country’s “founding myth to cement the population together and create a Russian identity,” Gordadze said.
Writing in 2015 about his personal experiences of the war, Putin said his infant brother Viktor was killed and his parents were seriously injured during the siege of Leningrad, which lasted from 1941 to 1944 in the city now known as St. Petersburg.