Russian President Vladimir Putin’s emphasis on the May 9 Victory Day celebration has raised concerns that Moscow might order further or heightened military action in Ukraine.
For weeks, the State Department has also been telling Americans in Russia to leave, and officials at the US embassy in Moscow issued a new warning ahead of the May 9 celebration.
“Local authorities will restrict movement in event areas to facilitate rehearsals for the event,” the notice said. “In the past, there have been heightened police presence surrounding these events. Given the ongoing tensions, US citizens should avoid large public gatherings. Smaller Victory Day events are expected throughout Russia. The embassy may not always be aware of the exact time and place of these events in advance.”
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Russia’s Victory Day celebrates the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany in World War II. Putin in 2021 used the event to warn that Russia’s enemies once more followed “much of the definition of the Nazis,” rallying cry he has repeated throughout his invasion of Ukraine, which he promised to “de-nazify.”
The Russian military staged a rehearsal Wednesday for the May 9 celebration, featuring 62 military aircraft that bore the now-famous “Z” symbol that has appeared on tanks and other vehicles during the invasion. The incredibly public and widespread celebration provides Putin a platform to make a big announcement, with some analysts arguing he may launch a wider offensive or all-out war in Ukraine – escalating from the “special military operation.”
An all-out war initiative would also allow Putin to call up conscripts and deploy reserves to the field as he makes a push to fully conquer the Donbas region and secure control over vital port cities. He could also use the event to formally recognize breakaway states in the region, according to former DIA intelligence officer Rebekah Koffler.
“Putin will probably orchestrate a referendum in Luhansk and Donetsk, in the next 1-2 days, whose population will probably vote to join Russia,” Koffler, author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News Digital . “This will be part of Putin victory that he will claim on May 9, during the WWII Victory Day Parade, a major event.”
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A shift to all-out war would require Russia to mobilize the entire state apparatus, including military, economy and state administration over months or even years, she added.
Putin’s press Secretary Dmitry Peskov denied any allegations of plans to invoke a “full mobilization” of Russia’s war machine on Victory Day. Some experts argue that Moscow’s denial is an effort to obscure its next move, and the May 9 date still retains significance.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban assured Pope Francis this week that Putin in fact plans to end the invasion of Ukraine by May 9, with the pope saying he remained “pessimistic” that Russia will stick to that promise, the Times of Israel reported.
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In the past, the day served as an occasional reminder of Soviet glory during the Cold War and was revived by President Boris Yeltsin to mark the 50th anniversary in 1995, according to the BBC. Putin placed renewed emphasis on the day, using it as a platform to display Russia’s resurgent military might with annual parades.
“Even in a normal year it’s a huge show of Russia strength, of Putin’s control and everything he stands for,” Ammon Cheskin of Glasgow University told the BBC. “And that’s just amplified this year.”
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Russia ran the names of the Russian dead across state television while the military performed a warplane flyby over Moscow. Resident remained in their houses due to health concerns.
But on any other year, the day would see a massive parade and dignitaries from various states in attendance, from China, Germany and the United States, according to The New York Times. This year will see a more isolated Russia celebrating its own military – the same forces that have sustained a grinding, often demoralizing invasion in Ukraine over the past two months.