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Victory Day without a victory

Good evening. This is your Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, a weeknight guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.

  • President Biden signed an updated version of the Lend-Lease Act that supplied Britain and other allies during World War II, paving the way for more arms shipments to Ukraine.

  • Dozens of people were feared dead after a Russian airstrike leveled a school in the village of Bilohorivka in eastern Ukraine on Saturday.

  • Jill Biden, the first lady, traveled to western Ukraine yesterday in an unannounced trip, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada reopened his country’s embassy in Kyiv.

  • Get live updates here.


President Vladimir Putin of Russia speaking during the Victory Day Parade in Moscow on Monday.Credit…Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

No victory on Victory Day

Against a backdrop of armored vehicles and soldiers in regalia, President Vladimir Putin tried to channel Russian pride over the defeat of Nazi Germany into support for the invasion of Ukraine.

But his speech during the country’s annual Victory Day commemorations was notable for what it lacked:

  • Contrary to expectations, Putin did not announce a mass mobilization or an escalation of the war.

  • Speaking primarily to a domestic audience, he did not renew his implicit threats of nuclear war, which his government has used to warn off the U.S. and its allies.

  • Putin did not try to frame any part of the Ukraine invasion as a victory, signaling that the conflict is unlikely to end anytime soon.

Putin’s message to Russians, writes Anton Troianovski, our Moscow bureau chief, was that they could keep living their lives, without the need to prepare for a wider conflict with the West. The calibrated tone showed he remained cautious about demanding too much from Russians.

“He understands that no propaganda can by itself force someone to die,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former adviser to Putin. “It could turn out that people are prepared to support the war while sitting at home in front of the TV, as they say, but that they are not at all prepared to go and fight.”

Putin restated his past claims that attacking Ukraine was “inevitable” and “the only correct decision.”

In a rare acknowledgment of the war’s toll, Putin said that every soldier’s death was a “grief for all of us” and promised that the government would do “everything to care for” the families of the dead.

As expected, his speech was a call to battle using language that slandered Ukraine’s defenders as “Nazis” while evoking Russia’s victorious World War II past — perhaps the most unifying element of the country’s diverse identity.

The Kremlin has cast the war as a continuation of Russia’s fight against evil in World War II, which it calls the Great Patriotic War. Putin appears to be calculating that cloaking the Ukraine invasion with Russian pride in the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany will endow the war with a greater sense of moral purpose.

Putin has repeatedly returned to the false claim that the Ukrainian government is run by Nazis who are oppressing and even committing a “genocide” against Russian-speakers across Ukraine. It is a lie that military analysts say has undermined the Russian invasion — with Russian soldiers surprised that they were not greeted as liberators.

Last weekend, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, saidthat by destroying cities in eastern Ukraine, Russian soldiers “essentially took revenge and retaliated further against Russian-speaking Ukrainians who did not meet them with flowers, as they had dreamed they would.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine rebutted Putin’s reading of history, saying in a speech released today that the Russian leader is “the one who is repeating the horrific crimes of Hitler’s regime today.”

“He is doomed,” Zelensky said, “because he was cursed by millions of ancestors when he began to imitate their killer. And, therefore, he will lose everything.”

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments


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Putin’s Victory Day speech. President Vladimir V. Putin delivered a defiant May 9 holiday address in Moscow that falsely depicted his invasion of Ukraine as an extension of the struggle against Nazism in Europe. But contrary to some expectations, he did not proclaim an escalation of the war.

Zelensky’s rebuttal. In his own speech, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine rejected Mr. Putin’s claim of purging Nazism to justify the invasion. Mr. Zelensky said that it was the Russian leader who was “repeating the horrific crimes of Hitler’s regime today.”

U.S. support. President Biden signed an updated version of the Lend-Lease Act that supplied Britain and other allies during World War II, paving the way for further arms shipments to Ukraine. Separately, Democrats in Congress said they planned to move quickly on a nearly $40 billion aid package.


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What else we’re following

Ukraine

  • The Ukrainian military has waged a fierce counteroffensive in the east, forcing Russian forces to redeploy to the area around the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

  • Russian forces are replacing road signs, rerouting the internet through Russian servers and stepping up security in territories they have seized in southern Ukraine, as Moscow intensifies efforts to bring the occupied areas under its control.

  • Zelensky laid out conditions for entering peace talks with Russia, including E.U. membership for Ukraine and a restoration of preinvasion borders, The Washington Post reports.

  • But President Emmanuel Macron of France ruled out any hope that Ukraine could join the E.U. in the near future, saying that the membership process would likely take “decades.”

Russia

  • Putin is “stewing in a very combustible combination of grievance and ambition and insecurity,” the director of the C.I.A. told The Financial Times.

  • The Times profiled Elvira Nabiullina, the head of Russia’s central bank, who is steering Russia’s economy through treacherous waters.

  • Because of a 1936 treaty, Russia is unable to move any new warships into the Black Sea.

We also recommend

  • Russian-speaking students in Europe are facing bullying and harassment over the invasion of Ukraine.

  • The New Yorker profiled Selçuk Bayraktar, the Turkish drone maker whose products are reshaping the war in Ukraine and perhaps warfare itself.

  • Since the Ukraine war began, the Biden administration has begun pressing Taiwan to buy weapons that are more suited to asymmetric warfare against China.

  • Zelensky granted state honors to a bomb-sniffing dog named Patron, who has become a social media celebrity.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow — Adam

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