Moscow celebrated Victory Day as usual on 9 May 2023. The Red Square parade was colourful. President Putin gave a punchy speech denouncing Ukraine and its Western ‘bosses’. There had been a recent drone attack on the Kremlin, which Putin’s spokespeople blamed on Ukrainian terrorists. The possibility of another attack was one of the reasons given for the minimal display of military hardware during the parade: only one tank, a T-34 from the Great Patriotic War, was driven across Red Square. Putin was filmed smiling – to my mind, with a hint of condescension – at a Cossack unit that marched in historical uniform. Russia’s armed prowess was affirmed.
But the performance of Russian forces in Putin’s ‘special military operation’ was also weighing on his mind. Not much noticed on the same day was the cancellation of the Immortal Regiment parades. This is an annual event in which people take to the streets of the capital and other cities carrying photos of relatives who fought and died for the motherland. Putin himself used to join in. A ban was imposed this year because of the threat of terrorism. But was this the only reason? Or did Putin also have a concern that parents who have lost sons in the current war might be moved to challenge the rationale behind the invasion?
Serhii Plokhy, a native of Zaporizhia, is one of the world’s foremost experts on Ukraine. He has produced this account of the conflict as it has unfolded so far out of a sense of public duty. He has lost a cousin in this terrible war, and his carefully