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Russia fires missiles at Ukraine before Putin presides over parade

2023-05-09T08:32:12Z

Fresh smoke trails from explosions could be seen over the skies of Kyiv at dawn after Ukrainian officials said Russia had launched a barrage of 15 cruise missiles on the capital on Tuesday (May 9).

An explosion is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 9, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Russia’s cruise missiles exploded in the air over Kyiv on Tuesday and its soldiers and tanks rolled through Red Square for a military parade, as Moscow marked the anniversary of victory over the Nazis with a new attack on Ukraine.

In a fiery 10 minute speech on Red Square in front of the Kremlin walls, Putin thundered against “western global elites” and said Russia again faced an existential threat.

“Today, civilization is again at a decisive turning point. A real war has been unleashed against our homeland,” said the Russian leader, who last year ordered what the West calls an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, destroying cities and killing thousands of civilians.

After he spoke, a band struck up and cannon fired a salute. Soldiers marched through the square, followed by tanks and nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But a flyover of warplanes over Moscow was cancelled, and parades in some other cities were scaled back or called off, amid security concerns – including drones that exploded over the Kremlin citadel itself last week – and shortages of troops and arms at the front.

Authorities nationwide cancelled the traditional “Immortal Regiment” processions, in which people carry portraits of relatives who fought against the Nazis.

Ukraine said its air defences shot down 23 of 25 cruise missiles fired chiefly at the capital Kyiv overnight, and there were no reported casualties. It was the second night in a row of major Russian air strikes and fifth so far this month.

“Overnight into the ‘sacred’ May 9, (they) launched an attack on the territory of Ukraine,” Ukraine’s air force said.

Sergei Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, said the Russians were trying to kill civilians. “As at the front, the plans of the aggressor failed.”

Moscow denies targeting civilians and says its air strikes are aimed at reducing Ukraine’s ability to fight.

Debris fell on a house in the Holosiivskyi district in the southwest of Kyiv but caused little damage, Kyiv Mayor Vitalii Klitschko said. Debris lay in a road in the often-targeted Shevchenkivskyi district of central Kyiv.

Russia has stepped up its attacks this month in anticipation of a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive, after a failed Russian winter campaign captured little ground despite the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.

May 9, the date in Moscow’s time zone of Germany’s May 8 surrender in 1945, is the most important holiday in Russia under Putin.

Kyiv symbolised its break from Moscow this year by shifting its observance to May 8 in line with European allies; on May 9 it instead marked Europe Day, celebrating a declaration that led to the founding of the body that became the EU.

It hosted EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who tweeted a picture of herself arriving at Kyiv station by train.

“Good to be back in Kyiv. Where the values we hold dear are defended everyday,” she wrote, calling it a “such a fitting place to celebrate the day of Europe.”

In Moscow, Putin welcomed the leaders of ex-Soviet allies Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan at the Kremlin before they took their places on the dais outside. After the parade the leaders lay flowers at the eternal flame by the Kremlin walls.

The Soviet victory over the Nazis is Russia’s defining state story under Putin, who says independent Ukraine now represents a return of the World War Two threat.

Ukraine, which as part of the Soviet Union overrun by the Nazis suffered greater per capita losses than Russia in World War Two, says Moscow’s account of the shared history is distorted to justify today’s Russian aggression.

The parade comes at a crucial juncture in the war, with Kyiv preparing to launch a counteroffensive in coming weeks after keeping its troops on the defensive for the past six months.

During that time, Russia launched a major winter campaign, enduring huge losses in the bloodiest ground fighting in Europe since World War Two but making scant gains.

Kyiv says Russia tried and failed to capture the eastern city of Bakhmut in time for the holiday to give Putin a trophy for the campaign.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose private army Wagner made up mainly of convicts recruited from prison led Russia’s fighting in Bakhmut for months, has threatened to abandon the city, accusing generals of withholding the ammunition his forces need.

On Tuesday he said the ammunition had still not arrived but he did not want to “spoil” the Victory Day parade and would reveal more details later.