• Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023


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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.

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, said that 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.”


Follow our coverage of the war on the @nytimes channel.


  • 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.”


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