The story so far: Every year, Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9 to commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over Germany’s Nazi forces in World War II. The Russian military holds a parade at Moscow’s Red Square and in other cities to mark the event. An elaborate ceremony also takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a memorial in Moscow dedicated to Soviet soldiers who died during the war.
Over eight million Russian soldiers are estimated to have died during World War II. Russia and other parts of the erstwhile Soviet Union refer to the Second World War as the Great Patriotic War.
This year, there is huge speculation around the celebrations in light of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. While some experts believe that the country might use the occasion to intensify the attack, old reports have suggested that Russia wants to wrap up the military operation by May 9.
What is the history of Russia’s Victory Day?
The erstwhile Soviet Union first celebrated Victory Day on May 9, 1945, after Germany signed the Instrument of Surrender. At the end of World War II in 1945, the Allied Powers declared May 8 as Victory in Europe Day. USSR, however, wanted to wait till the official document was signed by German authorities in Soviet-controlled Berlin. By the time the document was signed, it was already past midnight in Moscow. Russia, therefore, celebrates Victory Day on May 9.
The occasion, however, was not always celebrated with similar pomp and glory.
In 1965, USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev made May 9 a national holiday. The mid-1960s also saw the introduction of grand celebrations and military parades on Victory Day. But it is President Vladimir Putin who is often credited with elevating the scale of the event to its present form.
In the last two decades, thousands of spectators have gathered in Moscow and in other parts of the country to watch the parades and participate in celebrations. Citizens of the country march through the streets, holding photographs of their ancestors who died in the war. Russia also uses Victory Day as an occasion to display its heavy artillery.
What is the significance of the occasion in light of Russia’s Ukraine invasion?
In March, Ukrainian newspaper Kyiv Independent reported that Russia wants to end the war by May 9.
However, according to Russian media, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied reports that Russia is rushing to end its offensive in Ukraine by May 9.
Russia has also denied that it is planning to hold celebrations in Ukraine's Mariupol to mark this year's Victory Day. "A time will come and there will be a big celebration there (In Mariupol). There will certainly be Russians there, and there will be many Russians on May 9, but I don't know about any official delegation," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peksov said.
On the other hand, western media has reported that Russia may use this year’s Victory Day to upscale its “military operation” in Ukraine to a war and mobilise additional resources.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the “denazification” of Ukraine as one of the main aims of his “special military operation” in the country. The choice of words followed by the Kremlin is similar to USSR’s stand against Nazism in World War II. The parallels drawn with the Second World War are one of the major reasons why speculations around Russia’s actions on Victory Day 2022 keep growing.
(With inputs from agencies)