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Putin defends Ukraine invasion in Victory Day speech, as U.K. calls out ‘absurdity of Russian generals’

President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian Defence Ministry top officials and representatives of the Russian Defense Industry, at Bocharov Ruchei residence. (Klimentyev Mikhail/TASS /ZUMA Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

President Vladimir Putin has justified Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a necessary move for “defending the motherland,” a claim Britain said mirrored the fascism and tyranny that sparked World War II, as Russian forces pressed ahead with their offensive in the east and south of the country.

In Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy promised his war-ravaged nation that Ukraine will soon have “two Victory Days,” as the last Ukrainian defenders at the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol vowed to fight to the end against Russian troops who have surrounded them.

Putin, who presided over a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square to mark the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, reiterated his accusation that NATO was creating threats right next to its borders and claimed that the invasion of Ukraine was a necessary preemptive action.

He also addressed soldiers fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Russia has pledged to “liberate” from Kyiv.

“Defending the motherland when its fate is being decided has always been sacred,” he said.

In his own speech marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Zelenskiy on May 9 likened the Allies’ fight against Hitler with his country’s struggle to repel Russia’s aggression.

“We will never forget what our ancestors did in World War II, where more than 8 million Ukrainians died. Every fifth Ukrainian didn’t return home,” Zelenskiy said, adding, “Soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine. And someone will not have even one left. We won then. We will win now, too,” he said.

Meanwhile, British Defense Minister Ben Wallace called out the “absurdity of Russian generals — resplendent in their manicured parade uniforms and weighed down by their many medals,” saying they were “utterly complicit in Putin’s hijacking of their forebears’ proud history of…repelling fascism.”

“All professional soldiers should be appalled at the behavior of the Russian Army,” as they not only have “engaged in an illegal invasion and war crimes, but their top brass have failed their own rank and file to the extent they should be court-martialed,” he said in a speech at the British National Army Museum.

“Through the invasion of Ukraine, Putin and his inner circle of generals are now mirroring the fascism and tyranny of 77 years ago, repeating the errors of the last century’s totalitarian regime,” he added.

U.S. President Joe Biden on May 9 signed largely symbolic legislation to reboot the World War II-era lend-lease program that helped defeat Nazi Germany.

Before signing the bill, Biden said that “Putin’s war” was “once more bringing wanton destruction of Europe,” drawing a reference to the anniversary of the Allied victory in 1945.

Although there had been speculation that Putin might officially declare war on Ukraine, his 11-minute speech offered no assessment of progress in the war and gave no indication of how long it might continue.

Russian forces have so far failed to complete the occupation of the strategic Sea of Azov port of Mariupol, where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters continue to resist in the sprawling network of underground tunnels and bunkers of the Azovstal steel mill.

Azovstal has achieved a symbolic value in the conflict, as Russian forces sought a celebratory win ahead of May 9. Zelenskiy warned of more intense attacks against the remaining defenders, who vowed to fight to the end.

The complete capture of Mariupol would also deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to complete a land corridor to the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula, and free troops up for fighting elsewhere.

On the battlefield, intense fighting raged in Ukraine’s east, the port of Odesa in the south came under missile attack, and Russian forces sought to finish off the Ukrainian defenders of the steel plant, who have vowed to fight to the end.

The Odesa city council said late on May 9 that three missiles were fired from an aircraft, destroying five buildings. Two people were injured and taken to hospital, a statement from the council said.

According to the city council, rescuers managed to save a dog from under the debris.

“This is how they celebrate their Victory Day. Apparently, the only thing the occupiers have won is common sense and humanity,” said Maksym Marchenko, head of the Odesa regional military administration.

Russian troops earlier on May 9 fired four missiles into the Odesa region from occupied Crimea. The missile strike occurred as European Council President Charles Michel visited the city.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there were indications that Ukrainians had been “taken against their will into Russia.”

Asked about statements from Kyiv that more than 1 million Ukrainians were being sent to Russia and placed in camps, Kirby said, “I can’t speak to how many camps or what they look like.” He called these actions “unconscionable” and “not the behavior of a responsible power.”

On May 8, the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) commemorated the anniversary of the end of World War II by pledging to “spare no effort” to hold Putin and the architects “and accomplices of this aggression,” including the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus, accountable for their actions.

The leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States said Putin’s actions “bring shame on Russia and the historical sacrifices of its people.”

The United States after the meeting announced sanctions against three Russian television stations and executives from Gazprombank along with a ban on Americans providing accounting and consulting services to Russians.

Zelenskiy also told the G7 leaders that 60 civilians had died in the bombing of a school on May 7 in the eastern Luhansk region.

“They were hiding from shelling in the building of a regular school, which was attacked by a Russian air strike,” he said.

British officials announced an extra $1.6 billion in military aid for Ukraine, while Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its regular bulletin on May 9 that Moscow’s invasion “has revealed shortcomings in its ability to conduct precision strikes” on a large scale and has shown utter disregard for the lives of civilians.

“Russia has subjected Ukraine’s towns and cities to intense and indiscriminate bombardments with little or no regard to civilian casualties,” the ministry said.