A tired-looking Vladimir Putin gave a tired-sounding May 9 Victory Day speech in which he nagged NATO, didn’t mention Ukraine by name, and did nothing — whew! — to escalate the ongoing war there.
It’s one of those days when it feels so good to be so wrong.
As the Ukraine War drags towards its third month with no end in sight and little progress for Russia to brag about on Victory Day, many (including Yours Truly) were concerned Putin would raise the stakes.
That could have meant a full military mobilization or even the use of “special weapons” to deter NATO from continuing arms delivery to Ukraine.
Or, I had (weakly) hoped, Vlad might announce a partial victory, annex most or all of the occupied territories, and call it a day. I’d had even weaker hopes that he might signal some kind of willingness to negotiate an end to the war.
None of these things happened. It seems that until Ukraine collapses, or the Russian army does, or there is some kind of — let us speak gently now — political change in Moscow, there war will drag on, bloody and inconclusive.
Military analyst Laughing Wolf tweeted to me this morning that Putin’s demeanor has him wondering if “some reality might not have penetrated the bubble.”
Perhaps. Let’s take a look at the speech itself.
It was the kind of by-the-numbers address you’d expect to hear at the peacetime dedication of the new People’s Red Army Memorial Mess Hall at an army base somewhere in Siberia. There just wasn’t much to either inspire or threaten.
After a moving tribute to Russian heroics and sacrifices fighting Nazi Germany, Putin ventured deep into paranoid delusion land.
Putin accused NATO of making “preparations for another punitive operation in the Donbas [that] went on in the open: an invasion of lands which have historically been ours, including the Crimea.”
“Russia,” claimed Czar Vladimir, “launched a preemptive attack against this aggression” by invading Ukraine.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If NATO had ever wanted to send troops into Ukraine, they’d have had all the justification they needed the moment Russian forces invaded on February 24.
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Is Putin paranoid enough to actually believe that NATO — an alliance so fractured that major members won’t spend so much as 2% of GDP on defense — was planning to launch a war of aggression? Or is he just selling lame propaganda to his domestic audience?
I’d wager the latter, but at this point, who knows. What I do know for sure is that Putin did not look or sound like his usual, swaggering self.
Aside from a few lovely words about Russia’s WWII veterans and a promise to care for Russia’s Ukraine War dead and wounded, today’s speech sounded less like a victory speech than a set of weak excuses for a badly fought war.
There’s been a lot of speculation about the Russian strongman’s health, including rumors of a cancer surgery that was delayed so he could make Monday’s Victory Day speech.
I hadn’t written about any of that stuff because it was all hearsay, rumors, and possible disinformation.
One of the stranger claims was that Putin is suffering from Parkinson’s, using this clip below of him gripping a table as though to stave off tremors.
Putin is having serious physical problems. Look at this video and you'll see him gripping the table for dear life. Parkinson's? Putin is also rumored to have cancer. Is it wise to push a wounded bear who has nukes? pic.twitter.com/sWagpV2yMq
— William Wallace (@BraesSeverie) May 3, 2022
I’ve seen Parkinson’s up close and it didn’t look like that.
I only belatedly mention the health rumors in order to dismiss them. Today’s speech didn’t sound like one given by a man who is dying — just a man who is tired and out of ideas.
“I’m content to wait,” writes Laughing Wolf in his post-speech mea culpa, “and enjoy the silence for now.”
Here’s the Victory Day speech in its entirety, complete with an English translation voiceover.