Russian President Vladimir Putin has described his country’s military action in Ukraine as a preemptive move against potential aggression, telling his soldiers in the neighbouring country they are fighting for the security of Russia.
In a speech on Monday marking Victory Day, the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, Putin did not provide any assessment of progress in the war, now in its 11th week.
He said, however, that Russia was under threat by Western countries and NATO, accusing them of preparing an attack on Crimea, which Moscow’s forces annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
“Last year, we suggested to NATO countries that we sign a security treaty, but they did not want to hear us, they had completely different plans, and an attack on Crimea was being prepared,” Putin said in Moscow. “The alliance began military development of the territories adjacent to us,” he added, calling the fighting “inevitable”.
The commemorations in the capital’s Red Square included a huge parade by thousands of soldiers, as well as the showcasing of troops, tanks, rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Putin hailed his forces fighting in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region.
“You are fighting for your Motherland, its future,” he said, addressing them, calling what he describes as a “special military operation” the “only right decision”.
“The death of every soldier and officer is painful for us,” Putin added. “The state will do everything to take care of these families.”
He finished his speech with a rallying cry to the assembled soldiers: “For Russia, for victory, hurrah!”
Reporting from Moscow, Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said that, contrary to expectations, Putin did not mention anything about what was yet to come.
“It’s interesting that he spent the few minutes he had chosen to deliver this very important speech to talk about why Russian forces are fighting in Ukraine,” she said.
“A lot of people were expecting a much more rousing and longer speech from the president to get some clarity about when the Russian population could expect an end to this conflict.”
Putin also invoked a “very powerful image” as he addressed the troops fighting in Ukraine, Jabbari added, by saying they are fighting for the same reasons their grandfathers did in World War II.
However, on a day marking the immense sacrifice the Russian people and other nations of the Soviet Union made in the fight against Nazism, the human cost to Moscow of its war in Ukraine lies unclaimed.
In Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid was granted rare access to refrigerated trains carrying stacks of unclaimed body bags belonging to Russian soldiers killed in the war.
Ukraine says about 25,000 have lost their lives so far, whereas Russia’s most recent update in late March put the figure at 1,300.
“The war is in its third month but, so far, Moscow has no clear victory to show for it, even in predominantly Russian-speaking Mariupol, where it did enjoy some popular support in the past,” Abdel-Hamid said.
At the vital southeastern port city, Russian troops continued pummeling a massive steel mill where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were making what appears to be their last stand to save Mariupol from falling and allowing Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence warned in a daily intelligence report on Twitter that Russia was running short of precision-guided munitions and is starting to use more inaccurate rockets.
However, the Interface news agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov as saying Russia has enough ammunition and is developing new-generation hypersonic missiles to carry out attacks from air, land and sea.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that the Victory Day anniversary could bring a renewed onslaught.
Putin has repeatedly likened the war in Ukraine – which he casts as a battle against dangerous “Nazi”-inspired nationalists in Ukraine – to the challenge the Soviet Union faced when Adolf Hitler invaded in 1941.
Ukraine and its allies reject the accusation of Nazism and the assertion that Russia is fighting for survival against an aggressive West, saying Putin unleashed an unprovoked war in an attempt to rebuild the Soviet Union.
And while Victory Day turned attention towards Putin, Western leaders showed new signs of support for Ukraine.
The G7 group of nations, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, has pledged to ban or phase out imports of Russian oil.
“The G7 issued a statement designed to poke at Russian pride in defeating Nazi Germany,” said Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, speaking from Washington, DC. “Vladimir Putin’s actions, it said, bring shame on Russia and on its people’s sacrifices in World War II.”