Russia's VE Day marks a war of competing nationalisms

Russia’s VE Day marks a war of competing nationalisms

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For weeks, the approach of May 9 has been looming over Russia’s war in Ukraine. Analysts believed that what is called a “Victory Day” in Russia, commemorating the anniversary of Germany’s surrender to the Soviet Union and the wider defeat of the fascist powers in World War II, would be a benchmark in how President Vladimir Putin maneuvers through the conflict. it launched 10 weeks ago. The Kremlin’s use of the day’s martial spectacle, ceremonies and speeches marking the day can feed into its messages about Ukraine.

Will Putin use the occasion to announce the annexation of new chunks of Ukrainian territory – as he did in 2014 when Russia seized Crimea? Will he present himself as satisfied with Russia’s territorial gains in southern and eastern Ukraine and act to reduce Russia’s euphemistic “special military operation” in its neighbor? Will he recognize that Russia is indeed waging a real war, an admission that could prefigure a general mobilization of Russia and an intensification of the war effort?

While much remains uncertain, it will be difficult for Putin to declare mission accomplished on Monday. Russian forces entered Ukraine in late February, ostensibly on a mission against the “Nazis” that was designed to be quick and easy, but turned out to be anything but. The government in Kyiv – led, in part, by liberal Europhiles, not usurping fascists – has won both domestic and global support. Russia, meanwhile, is increasingly cut off from the Western world and faces a deep economic crisis. On the battlefield, Russian troops suffered heavy losses and were forced into a humiliating retreat on some fronts; on others they were bogged down and faced stiff Ukrainian resistance.

Russian officials had hoped to stage some sort of triumphant display in the strategic Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the capture of which remains one of the few military victories the Kremlin can boast of. But Ukrainian fighters over the weekend are still locked in bunkers within a major industrial facility there, while Russia’s siege of the city has left it in ruins. Even for Russian propaganda purposes, a smoldering desolation can be a tough sell.

The Siege of Mariupol endgame means very different things for Kyiv and Moscow

That is why, on Victory Day, the Russian leader will probably look to the past. “Putin will use this day to justify his war against Ukraine and underline, as he believes, Russia’s historic mission to fight fascism,” Tatiana Stanovaya, director of the political consultancy R .Politik based in Paris. . “He has to legitimize his war, and he tries to present it to the world and to the Russians as a kind of fight for historical justice.”

Stanovaya added: “The strategic problem facing Russia today is that Russian society has not been prepared for a protracted and costly war. He wanted a quick and decisive victory, and Putin cannot give it to the Russians.

Instead, Putin can mostly offer his audience a deep nationalist grievance. In remarks on Sunday, he again compared the battles in Ukraine to those of World War II. “Today our soldiers, like their ancestors, fight side by side to liberate their native land from Nazi filth with the certainty that, as in 1945, victory will be ours,” he said, in a rhetoric that can disconcert many. observers elsewhere, but is largely in line with Putin’s neo-imperialist worldview.

Putin and his allies see themselves at war not only with the government in kyiv, but with a whole range of Western proxy forces, mobilized by the United States and other NATO member states, which are determined to undermine the will of the Russian people. In Putin’s own rhetoric, Ukraine is inseparable from Russia and shares not only the same mythical history of national origin – rooted in Russia’s emergence from kyiv a millennium ago – but national destiny. Therefore, for the Kremlin, no expression of Ukrainian national identity or aspiration for geopolitical independence can be tolerated, and any opposition to Russian influence must be reduced to a story of “Nazi” perfidy and Russian victimization.

Ukrainians, of course, see this all quite differently, especially since Russia began carving up its sovereign territory in 2014. “Beneath its imperial and Soviet guises, Russia dominates Ukrainian history as a colonial force of exploitation, assimilation, repression and humiliation,” wrote Georgiy Kasianov, a political historian at Maria Curie University- Sklodowska in Poland.

Although Ukraine has for centuries been shaped and divided by overlapping empires, a distinct national tradition endures and has only grown stronger in the face of Russian bullying and warmongering. Ukrainians pushed, for example, for the world to recognize the Great Famine of 1932-1933, where millions of Ukrainians died, as a genocide caused by Soviet policies – known as Holodomor, literally “killing by hunger”. Russian officials sought to prevent other governments from officially acknowledging this history, instead presenting this period as a time of suffering for all Soviet peoples.

It’s a story that still stirs animosities now, as Ukrainian officials and activists invoke his legacy by blaming Russian forces for wholesale theft of Ukrainian grain. “In many ways, this war is the collision of two incompatible historical narratives,” Kasianov wrote in Foreign Affairs. “Putin’s desire to restore an imperial Russia (of which Ukraine is only a constituent part) has crashed into a Ukrainian nationalism that imagines a sovereign Ukrainian state and a distinct Ukrainian people persisting in various forms for more than a thousand years.”

Speaking to CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said her country was ready for any escalation that might come from Putin following his Victory Day speech.

“We can count on Putin and imperialist Russia to do whatever they can try,” Markarova said. “The question is, are we all – the civilized world – ready to do all we can to defend our democracy and our freedom? And Ukraine is certainly not only ready, but has shown for 74 days that we bravely defend these values ​​and defend our homes.

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