How Putin's May 9th Ideology Has Come Back To Haunt Him
May 8th and May 9th crystallizes the divergent fates of Ukraine and Russia. For Vladimir Putin, the victory of the "Great Patriotic War" is at the core of his national narrative. More than 14 months into his invasion of Ukraine, who still believes the story?
PARIS — In the run-up to May 9 last year, speculation was rife that Vladimir Putin would use the anniversary of the victory over Nazism to announce the end of his "special military operation" in Ukraine. This year, Russia is still very much at war in Ukraine, and the atmosphere in Moscow is very different.
May 9th crystallizes attention as it is at the heart of Putin's ideology. It illustrates the divergent fates of Ukraine and Russia: as a supreme symbol, Ukraine now marks the date of May 8, aligned with European ceremonies to celebrate the end of World War II. The Nazi capitulation was indeed signed at 11:01 p.m. Berlin time on the 8th, which was 12:01 a.m. Moscow time on the 9th…
The victory anniversary of the "Great Patriotic War" is at the core of the national narrative in Moscow as it has been written and rewritten by the Putin system. It is the backdrop for the invasion of Ukraine, with the initial hype about "denazification." One year later, who still believes it?
The "immortals' parade" canceled
Putin had nothing positive to announce Tuesday, not even the capture of the ruined city of Bakhmut: Wagner's militiamen have partly conquered it at the cost of tens of thousands of lives. But the Ukrainian defenders did not give up, and Putin cannot even claim this success.
Above all, the Russian authorities have canceled the "immortals' parade", the centerpiece of the militarization of Russian memory and identity. The "immortals," at the core of the May 9 parade, is an initiative that started from the grassroots, to honor the memory of the dead on the front.
Putin has recovered it: in 2018, he marched at the head of a million people, a portrait of his grandfather in hand. Similar parades occurred around the world with Russian communities; even here in Paris, at the Père Lachaise cemetery.
Servicemen march during a rehearsal of a military parade marking the 78th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II in Novosibirsk, Russia, on May 9th, 2023.
Battle against the West
In a book dedicated to the "immortal regiment" — this is its title (ed. Premier Parallèle) — the historian of Russian origin Galia Ackerman underlines that with this parade, "the Russians reaffirm first of all their victory over the Nazis, and thus show to the whole world their moral superiority, first over the West, and then over the rest of the world.
Vladimir Putin, you were beaten to the punch.
This year, the parade has been canceled in Moscow and in several Russian cities.
An unofficial explanation is the fear of seeing portraits of victims of the war in Ukraine appearing among those of the World War II. A sign of an imperceptible unease, which adds to the absence of any significant foreign guest on the Red Square.
Far from triumph
Putin is settling into the long war, as opposed to last year when he still hoped for a quick success. He can no longer back down, if only because of the war crimes committed.
This gloomy May 9 is neither about triumphalism nor questioning: in the exaltation of the great patriotic war, Putin is looking for reasons to hold on, to survive, by designating the West as the adversary instead of the Nazis of yesterday.
But in the battle of symbols, it was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who fired the first shot, declaring on Monday, May 8, that the Russians would be pushed out of Ukraine, "like the Nazis in 1945."
Too bad, Vladimir Putin: you were beaten to the punch.
- Why Russia Is Now Betting On A Long War In Ukraine ›
- Russia-Ukraine: What Compromise Would Look Like, And How We Get There ›
- Russia, Ukraine And The West's Double Standard On International Law ›
- After Wagner? How The Russian National Guard Could Become Putin's True "Personal Army" - Worldcrunch ›