Russian President Vladimir Putin used the occasion of Nazi Germany’s defeat in Stalingrad 80 years ago to attempt to rally Russians around the war in Ukraine.
At a ceremony to mark the anniversary of Soviet victory, Putin said, “We are again being threatened by German Leopard tanks!”
The Russian leader also placed flowers on the grave of the Soviet marshal responsible for defending the city and paid a visit to the main memorial complex in Volgograd where he held a minute of silence.
Thousands came out to watch a mock victory parade with two tanks from the era and armored vehicles as well as warplanes overhead. Putin is also to meet with local patriotic and youth groups in Volgograd.
Until 1961, Volgograd was known as Stalingrad. During World War Two, over one million lost their lives in the battle that stretched from 1942 into the following year. It was the deadliest battle of the war, but it halted Nazi Germany’s advance into Russian territory.
Irina Zolotoreva, 61, told Reuters, “Our country is fighting for justice, for freedom. We got victory in 1942 and that’s an example for today’s generation. I think we’ll win again now whatever happens.”
It is a comparison sure to make Russian officials, who have gone to lengths to draw comparisons between fighting Nazis in World War Two and Ukraine, smile. Ukraine, however, suffered devastating consequences including a famine induced by Stalin known as the Holodomor and a genocide of its Jewish population carried out by Nazi forces in addition to mass civilian casualties – and therefore rejects Russian comparisons.
On Wednesday, a new bust of Stalin was erected in the city alongside busts of two Soviet commanders, Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Vasilyevsky, one day before the presidential visit and commemoration festivities.
While Stalin killed and starved millions on a whim, textbooks in Russia have been revised in recent years to reflect his wartime victory with significant omissions regarding the dehumanizing factors of his legacy.
Here are other updates on the war in Ukraine on Thursday, February 2:
A Russian missile struck a residential building in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Regional police said at least three people had been killed and 30 others were injured.
“At least eight apartment buildings were damaged. One of them was completely destroyed,” police said in a Facebook post.
Search and rescue efforts have been taking place at the site of the missile strike.
“Kramatorsk. Russian terrorists have hit the city with a ballistic missile leading to civilian casualties. Some people are still under the rubble. No goal other than terror. The only way to stop Russian terrorism is to defeat it. By tanks. Fighter jets. Long-range missiles,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a Twitter post.
Zelenskyy noted that there had been a spike in hostilities in the east in his nightly address.
“Definite increase has been noted in the offensive operations of the occupiers on the front in the east of our country. The situation has become tougher,” Zelenskyy said, adding that it was Russia likely “trying to achieve at least something” ahead of the anniversary marking one year since the invasion began.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal that EU countries plan on training 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers.
The announcement was made during a visit by European Commission officials to Kyiv and doubles the number of troops the EU was planning on training.
Ukrainian soldiers are set to receive specialized training including instruction on new weapon systems like the Leopard 2 battle tank.
Borrell also said that the EU would provide €25 million ($27.4 million) to support demining efforts in areas considered to be endangered.
Ukraine’s energy ministry said that several damaged power units which have been repaired, have been restarted.
Russian attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure have led to widespread power shortages and blackouts, affecting millions of people.
“The expected deficit at the evening peak will be about 19% of demand,” the ministry said in a Telegram message.
The power shortage reached 25% at the end of January.
The ministry said hostilities in the eastern regions of Donetsk, Kherson and Kharkiv were creating “the most difficult situation with power outages”.
Russia is preparing a large-scale new missile attack on targets in Ukraine, according to the country’s Operational Command South (OC South).
Spokeswoman Natalya Humenyuk pointed to movements of the Russian Black Sea fleet, with most vessels having returned to bases. Humenyuk said this suggested a new missile strike.
“They show their muscle for a time at sea, demonstrate their presence and control over the situation and then sail to the bases, where they usually prepare for maneuvers for a massive missile attack,” the Ukrainian military spokeswoman said.
According to Humenyuk, 10 Russian vessels remain at sea.
A group of 70 Ukrainian soldiers has arrived in Germany for training on the Patriot air defense system, the DPA news agency has reported, citing security sources in Berlin.
The group arrived in Germany on Tuesday and training was scheduled to begin on Thursday, according to the report.
Berlin agreed to the transfer of a Patriot system last month.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked Western countries for sophisticated air defense systems to defend against Russia’s bombardment of civilian energy infrastructure.
The Patriot system covers an area of around 68 kilometers (42 miles), according to the German military. Its radar can track up to 50 targets and engage five of them at once.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the United States of being directly involved in the Nord Stream gas pipeline explosions in the Baltic Sea last year.
Lavrov made the comments on state television but produced no evidence to back up his allegations.
The foreign minister also said Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by pushing Ukrainian forces further away from its borders to create a safe buffer zone.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has arrived in Kyiv for a meeting with Ukraine’s government. Fifteen other top EU officials are also in the Ukrainian capital for a summit to highlight European support for Ukraine.
“We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.
The EU commissioners will meet with counterparts in Ukraine’s government on Thursday, while von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday.
Some of the matters up for discussion include the destruction of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, humanitarian and financial support and the accession process.
It is highly likely that Russia’s position as a “reliable arms exporter” has been undermined by its invasion of Ukraine, according to the latest intelligence briefing from the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD).
The MOD said Russia’s share in the international arms market had been in a state of decline even before it invaded Ukraine, and “would almost certainly prioritise deploying newly produced weapons with its own forces in Ukraine over supplying export partners.”
The intelligence update went on to say that it was also likely that a shortage of components would affect the production of equipment for export, and its ability to provide spares and conduct maintenance could be seriously impacted for the foreseeable future.
Read more about the urgent calls for Germany to replace the Leopard 2 battle tanks being sent to Ukraine.
And get more on the biggest EU delegation to visit Kyiv, while the country is at war.
ar, kb/sms (Reuters, AFP)