As Putin celebrates Victory Day, his troops make little headway in the war – Twin Cities

By ELENA BECATOROS and JON GAMBRELL

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his country’s biggest patriotic holiday Monday with no new major battlefield success in Ukraine to boast of, as the war progresses into its 11th week with Kremlin forces making little or no progress on their mission. offensive.

The Russian leader oversaw a Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square, watching as troops marched in formation and military equipment passed by in a celebration of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in 1945.

While Western analysts in recent weeks widely expected Putin to use the holiday to herald some kind of victory in Ukraine or announce an escalation, he did not. Instead, he tried to justify the war again as a necessary response to what he described as a hostile Ukraine.

“The danger was increasing day by day,” Putin said. “Russia has given a preventive response to aggression. It was a forced, timely decision and the only correct one.”

He steered clear of battlefield details, not mentioning the potentially crucial battle for the vital southern port of Mariupol and not even saying the word “Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, on the ground, heavy fighting raged in eastern Ukraine, the vital Black Sea port of Odessa in the south came under repeated missile attacks, and Russian forces tried to mow down Ukrainian defenders making their last stand at a steel plant in Mariupol.

Putin has long bristled at NATO’s push east toward the former Soviet republics. Ukraine and its Western allies have denied the country poses a threat.

As he has done all along, Putin falsely portrayed the fight as a battle against Nazism, thereby linking the war to what many Russians consider to be his finest hour: triumph over Hitler. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War.

After unexpectedly fierce resistance forced the Kremlin to abandon its attempt to storm kyiv more than a month ago, Moscow’s forces have focused on capturing Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial region.

But the fighting there has been back and forth, village by village, with many analysts suggesting that Putin could use his festive speech to present the Russian people with a victory amid discontent over the country’s heavy casualties and punitive effects. of Western sanctions.

Others suggested he could declare the fighting a war, not just a “special military operation,” and order a national mobilization, with a call-up to the reserves, to replenish depleted ranks for a protracted conflict.

In the end, he gave no sign of where the war is headed or how he might try to save it. Specifically, she left unanswered the question of whether or how Russia will muster more forces for a continued war.

“Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia cannot fight a long war, and the clock is ticking on the failure of its military in Ukraine,” tweeted Phillips P. O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of Saint Andrew in Scotland.

Nigel Gould Davies, the former British ambassador to Belarus, said: “Russia has not won this war. She is starting to lose it.”

He said that unless Russia makes a breakthrough, “the balance of advantages will steadily shift in favor of Ukraine, especially as Ukraine gains access to increasing volumes of increasingly sophisticated Western military equipment.”

Despite Russia’s crackdown on dissent, anti-war sentiment has seeped through. A few scattered protesters were rounded up across the country on Victory Day, and the editors of a pro-Kremlin media outlet went into revolt by briefly publishing a few dozen articles critical of Putin and the invasion.

In Warsaw, anti-war protesters splashed the Russian ambassador to Poland with what appeared to be red paint as he arrived at a cemetery to pay his respects to Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.

As Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, anti-aircraft sirens resounded again in the Ukrainian capital. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared in his own Victory Day speech that his country would eventually defeat the Russians.

“Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine,” he said in a video. And he added: “We are fighting for freedom, for our children, and that is why we will win.”

Russia has about 97 battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, mainly in the east and south, a slight increase from last week, according to a senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment. Each unit has about 1,000 soldiers, according to the Pentagon.

The official said that overall the Russian effort in Donbas has not made any significant progress in recent days and continues to face strong resistance from Ukrainian forces.

The Ukrainian military has warned of a high probability of missile attacks during the holidays, and some cities have imposed curfews or warned people not to gather in public places.

More than 60 people were feared dead over the weekend after a Russian bombardment ripped through a Ukrainian school being used as a shelter in the eastern village of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian officials said.

Russia is perhaps closer to a victory in Mariupol. The US official said that approximately 2,000 Russian troops were around Mariupol and that the city was under attack by airstrikes. Some 2,000 Ukrainian defenders were believed to be holding out at the steel plant, the last bastion of resistance in the city.

The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to complete a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, and free up troops to fight in other parts of the Donbas. It would also give the Kremlin a much-needed success.

Odessa has also come under increasing bombardment in recent days. Ukrainian officials said he came under repeated missile fire on Monday. There were no immediate reports of casualties and authorities did not say what happened.

The war in the country long known as the “breadbasket of Europe” has disrupted the world’s food supply.

“I saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export,” Charles Michel, president of the European Council, lamented in a tweet after a visit to Odessa. “This much needed food is stranded due to the Russian war and the blockade of Black Sea ports. Causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries.”

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Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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