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On May 8, as usual, European countries celebrated “Victory Day” to commemorate the triumph of the military conglomerate called “The Allies”, whose leaders were the democratic United Kingdom under the leadership of Winston Churchill, the U.S. under the leadership of FDR and the Soviet Socialist Republican Union (USSR) under the leadership of fearsome Joseph Stalin, who fought against the Nazis or the so-called bloc “The Axis Powers” (Germany, Italy and Japan).
Consequently, we once again saw the usual events in France, Poland, and even Ukraine. Similarly, we saw this grandiloquent celebration in Russia, with its traditional grand military display in Moscow’s Red Square (in the vicinity of the Kremlin), an event presided over by Vladimir Putin himself, who fulfilled his role as speaker by offering a speech, on this very peculiar occasion, since it took place in the midst of an armed conflict with neighboring Ukraine.
That is precisely what we will touch on in these lines, analyze the status of the Russian invasion of Ukraine by placing the lens on this recent victory speech delivered by President Putin. To do so, we will employ one of the maxims of the prominent English historian Eric Hobsbawm who said: “the spectacular is not necessarily the most important”.
Putting this into context, most of the Western press has repeated over and over again that Russia is losing the war in Ukraine. Among their arguments (no less true), the key has been technology, which Russian forces do not have, such as Javelin or Stinger missiles and even the elusive Turkish-made drones capable of shooting down helicopter gunships and Sukhoi aircraft. Russia has a numerically far superior force, but it is obsolete, ill-equipped, logistically poor, poorly fed, and has already exhausted its smart missiles, so today it is employing old Soviet missiles. In short, a typical third-world army that historically has been overestimated.
Based on this overestimation, it was initially thought that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a sort of lightning operation, that Kyiv would fall in just 72 hours, the capital being taken and the government of Volodymyr Zelensky overthrown, which, fortunately for the Ukrainians, did not happen.
The balance so far from the conflict in gross numbers is estimated at 8 million displaced persons inside Ukraine, another 6 million left the country, 7 thousand dead (between civilians and military) plus 3 thousand civilian patients with chronic diseases (AIDS and cancer) who also died for not receiving their medical treatment on time, without counting the enormous material losses and destruction of all types of civilian structures. However, the toll is higher for the Russians, according to UK intelligence sources, Russian casualties range between 22,000 men, more than 400 tanks, some 2,000 armored vehicles, and even its flagship (the Moscow) was sunk, as well as both, downed helicopters and fighter planes.
In relation to numbers, on the ground today, the Russian troops control most of the Donbas, in addition to the port and key city of Mariupol whose Ukrainian resistance has been reduced to the besieged metallurgical factory of Azovstal, which allowed the Russians to advance towards Odesa. In perspective, today Russia has practically snatched from Ukraine the entire southern littoral and what that means, its access to the Azov and Black Seas, which is not a small or meager success for Russia.
As for Putin’s speech, while it is accurate, it was impregnated with his usual nationalist, anti-Nazi and anti-fascist tone, with his typical exaltation of the flag, veterans, and spilled blood, he also made a mention of what he calls the “special operation” in Ukraine. And in relation to that, I want to emphasize what he did not say, i.e. there was no formal declaration of war against Ukraine, no declaration of victory (neither total nor partial) or even a declaration of the annexation of new territories. Nor did he mention the use of his nuclear weapons or that he would expand combat against both NATO and EU countries.
This speech by Putin during the 77th anniversary of Russia’s Victory over Nazi Germany was supremely cautious, poised, and ultimately extremely prudent, clearly, while it is true that today Russian troops dominate much of the Ukrainian territories from Mariupol to the Donbas, we can make some observations: first, the economic sanctions packages have definitely hit the Russian economy and are the germ of a severe economic crisis that would seriously threaten its own government and, secondly, they were not the results that Putin expected or desired.
In conclusion, Putin is aiming at a change of strategy, that is to say, to close this chapter of the invasion as soon and discreetly as possible once he takes total control of Odessa. The second option, the one proposed by Avriel Haines, National Intelligence Director of the United States, Putin would be looking for a “prolonged war”, which would be more painful for Ukraine, since it would play on the time factor, weakening the support of the West for Zelensky and, once abandoned, Russia would strike the final blow: control Kyiv and overthrow its government. Only time will reveal the course of this war.
Nahem Reyes is a PhD in history from the Andrés Bello Catholix University and associate member of the American Studies Center of the Central University of Venezuela. // Nahem Reyes es doctor en Historia de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello y miembro asociado del Centro de Estudios de América de la Universidad Central de Venezuela.