President Vladimir Putin on Sunday vowed that Russia would “firmly” defend national interests and criticized the return of “Russophobia”, as the country celebrated 76 years of victory in World War II.
His speech to thousands of soldiers and veterans of the struggle in Red Square came at the beginning of an annual exhibition that saw hundreds of military personnel march through the streets of Moscow.
“The Soviet people have kept their sacred vow, defended their country, and liberated European countries from the black tree,” Putin told the assembled crowd.
“Russia has always defended international law. At the same time, we will strongly defend our national interests to ensure the safety of our people,” Putin said.
The Russian leader also criticized what he called the dynamic return of ideology at the time, when “slogans of racial and ethnic hatred, anti-apartheid and Rusophobia, began to doubt”.
State-owned company RIA Novosti reported that more than 12,000 military personnel will take part in Sunday’s exhibition in the Russian capital, as well as about 190 pieces of weapons and 76 planes and helicopters.
Victory Day exhibition, which became an annual event after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, was also held on Sunday in many cities across the country.
During the two years Putin has been in power, public holidays have become increasingly important in boosting Russia’s renewed war power.
A survey conducted this week by state surveyor VTsIOM shows that 69 percent of Russians consider it the most important holiday on the calendar.
A third of respondents told VTsIOM that they would take part in the celebrations, and a fifth said that they would watch on television.
– Conflict with the West –
The commemoration of the 76th anniversary of the 1945 conquest comes as tensions with Westerners have reached the Cold War weeks in recent weeks.
Russia has seen its strategists expelled from the European clutch for intelligence scandals, while the United States and the European Union impose new sanctions on Moscow for the treatment of arrested Kremlin detective Alexei Navalny for alleged hacking and cyber attacks.
Moscow has stepped up its military efforts abroad, intervening in Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the Syrian civil war. It is also widely regarded as a pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Tensions in the conflict, which erupted after Moscow took the Crimea in 2014, have escalated in recent weeks.
Clashes between the government and separatists have intensified since January in a dispute that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
Russia last month recruited 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian-Crimean border, its largest building since 2014, though it quickly announced a decline in what many see as a test for new US President Joe Biden.
Earlier this week, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Kiev in support of Ukraine and Russia, ahead of an expected summit between Putin and Biden next month.
On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled with European ambassadors to the eastern region of Lusansk, which sponsors Russia to commemorate the end of WWII.