On Thursday, the Russian president Vladimir Putin compared his military campaign in Ukraine to the war on Nazism, declaring on the 80th anniversary of the Soviet army’s victory over the Nazis at Stalingrad that German tanks threaten us again.
For years, the Russian president has presented himself as a fierce defender of the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, which is a source of great pride in Russia.
Since the start of his attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Putin has been striving to awaken these feelings among his citizens, stressing that the political officials in Kyiv are neo-Nazis behind the extermination of the Russian-speaking peoples in the neighboring country.
He resorted again to this speech Thursday in front of decorated soldiers and official officials in Volgograd, which was called Stalingrad.
“This is incredible, but true, we are again threatened by German Leopard tanks… Once again, Hitler’s successors want to fight Russia on Ukrainian soil using bandervotsy (the name given to supporters of the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II),” Putin said.
The Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943) that was the peak of the confrontation between Nazi Germany’s invasions of the Soviet Union in the Second World War, was one of the deadliest battles in history, with nearly two million people died on both sides.
This battle of Stalingrad changed the course of the conflict in the Soviet Union, which was witnessing until then a series of defeats.
Russia still glorifies the memory of this battle, considering it the event that saved Europe from Nazism.
Victory in this battle is of great symbolic importance, especially with the approach of the first anniversary of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, as Moscow began to intensify its movements after its recent seizure of the city of Solidar in eastern Ukraine, in the first victory of its forces in many months of field defeats.
Putin has long compared resistance to the Nazis to an attack on Ukraine.
“Forgetting the lessons of history leads to the repetition of terrible tragedies,” Putin said on Friday, on the commemoration of the Holocaust victims.
Putin added, “This is confirmed by crimes against civilians, ethnic cleansing, and punitive measures organized by neo-Nazis in Ukraine”.
These statements sparked strong responses, including a response from French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who denounced the statements she considered appalling.
In Volgograd, a city of about a million people on the banks of the Volga River, Wednesday and Thursday have been declared public holidays.
On the eve of the 80th anniversary of the victory in Stalingrad, the city inaugurated a bust of Stalin along with statues of Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Vasilevsky, military leaders famous for their roles in the Battle of Stalingrad.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian authorities have had an ambivalent attitude towards Stalin: despite official denunciations of the state terror he orchestrated in the 1930s until his death in 1953, he remains buried in front of the Kremlin in Red Square.
Many Russians revere Stalin and highlight his role in defeating Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union.
Thursday’s festivities included a military parade and a concert in Volgograd, and wreaths were laid on the strategic Mamaev Kurgan hill, which was the scene of fierce fighting during the battle and became a place of pilgrimage for Russians wishing to honor the achievements of the Soviet army.
The Battle of Stalingrad, which began in July 1942, lasted 200 days and nights.
The city, reduced to ruins, was the scene of devastating German aerial bombardment and fierce street battles.
On February 2, German Marshal Friedrich Paulus’ forces surrendered, surrounded by the Red Army.
This was the first surrender of the Nazi army since the beginning of the war.
Stalingrad was completely rebuilt by order of the Soviet authorities, and its name was changed to Volgograd in 1961, eight years after Joseph Stalin’s death.