President Vladimir Putin takes Russian anniversaries seriously. It was no coincidence that his invasion of Ukraine came a day after Defender of the Fatherland Day, a celebration of Russia’s military achievements. It was on that same occasion in 2014 that Putin took the first step in annexing Crimea from Ukraine, through orchestrated pro-Russian protests on the peninsula.
The leader had clearly hoped to have more to celebrate by this Victory Day on Monday, the country’s most patriotic of dates, marking the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II. It was on May 8, 1945, (May 9 in Moscow’s time zone) that Germany signed its Instrument of Surrender in Berlin, ending the fighting in Europe. The USSR suffered the biggest losses of any nation — around 27 million soldiers and civilians died.
Russia’s justification for war in Ukraine suggested a deadline for success by Victory Day. Putin and his government have repeatedly said the aim of their so-called “special operation” is to “denazify” Ukraine, and that freeing the country of Nazis is a matter of Russian survival. It’s an argument that has no real weight; a blatant cover for Russian revanchism.
Even though the Kremlin’s well-oiled propaganda machine has been going at full steam since the February invasion, it will be difficult for Putin to twist Russia’s losses into true victory on Monday.
If anything, the operation in Ukraine has been an embarrassment for him — at least on the international stage.
Russia’s military outsizes Ukraine’s by every measure — even with the heavy weapons the West is sending in — yet it failed to take territory in the north, let alone the capital, Kyiv, and is struggling to make gains even in the east, where it is now focused.
Ukraine’s armed forces claim that Russia has lost more than 24,000 troops in just over two months, and more than 1,000 tanks, over 2,600 armored vehicles and hundreds of aircraft. CNN cannot independently verify these numbers, and there are likely to be heavy losses on the Ukrainian side too. Still, it’s undeniable that Russia military is weakened.