On May 9, Victory Day, Russia commemorates the country’s defeat of the Nazis in 1945. It is marked by a military parade in Moscow, and Russian leaders traditionally stand on the tomb of Vladimir Lenin in Red Square to observe it. Western officials have long believed that Putin would leverage the symbolic significance and propaganda value of the day to announce either a military achievement in Ukraine, a major escalation of hostilities — or both.
Victory Day is a public holiday celebrated in many countries around the world. It honors those who have served in World War II and fought for their countries independence. In Russia, it is also known as Den Pobedy and is one of the most important holidays of the year.
Putin has used previous national holidays for political gain. For example, he launched the invasion of Ukraine the day after Defender of Fatherland Day, another crucial military day in Russia. By doing so, he sends a message to both his domestic audience and his opponents that he is not afraid to use force if necessary.
May 9 also holds significance for Putin personally. He was born on this day in 1952, making him 66 years old this year. This means that he will be starting his 67th year as president of Russia on May 9 – an impressive feat considering he has been in power for almost two decades now. Given his age and lengthy tenure as president, there is speculation that Putin may be looking to secure his legacy before stepping down from office.
What better way to do this than by announcing a major victory over Ukraine on Victory Day?
Such an announcement would no doubt be met with cheers from Putin’s supporters at home and would boost his popularity ratings. It would also serve as a warning to other countries not to cross Russia or else they will suffer dire consequences. We will have to wait and see what happens on May 9 but one thing is for sure – it will be an eventful day with huge implications for both Russia and Ukraine.
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, analysts are split on whether or not Vladimir Putin will declare war on his neighboring country. Putin has many options on the table, according to Oleg Ignatov, senior analyst for Russia at Crisis Group.
“Declaring war is the toughest scenario,” he said. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — who has not formally declared war on Russia — imposed martial law in Ukraine when the Russian invasion began in late February.
Another option for Putin is to enact Russia’s mobilization law, which can be used to start a general or partial military mobilization “in cases of aggression against the Russian Federation or a direct threat of aggression, the outbreak of armed conflicts directed against the Russian Federation.” That would allow the government not just to assemble troops but also to put the country’s economy on a war footing. Russian forces have lost at least 15,000 soldiers since the beginning of the war, according to Nixey, and reinforcements will be needed if Moscow is to achieve its goals in Ukraine.
Mobilization could mean extending conscription for soldiers currently in the armed forces, calling on reservists, or bringing in men of fighting age who have had military training, said Ignatov. But it would also represent a big risk for Putin.
“It would change the whole Kremlin narrative,” said Ignatov, noting that the move would force Putin to admit that the invasion of Ukraine has not gone to plan. Full-scale mobilization could also damage the struggling Russian economy, he said. In addition, it could diminish support for Putin at home, as some Russians support the invasion of Ukraine without wanting to personally go and fight, the analyst said. “If they declare full-scale mobilization, some people wouldn’t like it,” said Ignatov.