How Victory Day became central to Putin’s idea of Russian identity

How Victory Day became central to Putin’s idea of Russian identity

Shaun Walker writes:

In cities across Russia on Monday morning, tanks and missile trucks will growl their way along the main streets. Soldiers will march across central squares. Fighter jets will roar overhead.

Victory Day, when Russians celebrate the 1945 endpoint of what they still call the “great patriotic war”, has gradually become the centrepiece of Vladimir Putin’s concept of Russian identity over his two decades in charge.

This year, as the Russian army’s gruesome assault on Ukraine grinds on, the day has particular resonance, with some expecting a dramatic announcement from Putin, either declaring victory in Ukraine or raising the stakes further.

Across Russia, some families will quietly remember the ancestors who gave their lives in the fight against Nazism, or toast the few veterans still alive. Others will take a more bombastic approach in line with the official messaging, perhaps adding a papier maché turret to their child’s pushchair to make it look like a tank, or daubing “To Berlin” on their cars.

A more sinister slogan that has gained popularity on Victory Day in recent years is “We can do it again”.

According to Russian state messaging, this is exactly what Russia has been doing in Ukraine since the full-scale invasion on 24 February. Since the start, the Kremlin has used the language and imagery of the second world war to describe the attack on its neighbour.

Putin, when launching the invasion, described one of its main goals as the “denazification” of the country. In mid-March, when he addressed a flag-waving crowd at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, banners promised a “world without fascism”. His soldiers often wear the orange-black St George’s ribbon, which has become the symbol both of the second world war victory and of the war in Ukraine.

Many see this talk of “denazification” as pure propaganda. For sure, there have been other convincing explanations offered for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: a fear of Nato expansion, a post-imperial disdain for Ukrainian language and culture, and an isolated leader who spent the Covid pandemic in a bunker pondering his legacy.

But the rhetoric of victory and of fighting Nazis, which has become gradually more twisted over the past two decades, also plays a role.

Of course, it takes a particular mindset to look at Russia’s expansionist war, with the executions, targeting of civilians, filtration camps and harassment of dissidents at home, and come to the conclusion that it is the Ukrainians who are the Nazis. [Continue reading…]

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