Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday told Russia’s Vladimir Putin not to use his Victory Day speech to “appropriate” the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, a conflict in which millions of Ukrainians died.
“We will not allow anyone to annex this victory, we will not allow it to be appropriated,” the Ukrainian leader said, warning his country would not give “anyone a single piece of our history.”
Zelenskyy, a Jewish president, has hit back hard against Putin’s assertion that he is “de-Nazifying Ukraine” and has drawn clear parallels between Russia’s invasion and Nazi genocide.
His remarks were timed to come shortly before Putin’s speech on Victory Day, the annual holiday commemorating the defeat of Adolf Hitler.
Giving no clues of his plans, Putin used his address from Moscow’s Red Square to justify his invasion of Ukraine by accusing the West of preparing for an invasion of Donbas, but stopped short of officially declaring war on Ukraine, as expected by some observers. The Kremlin later denied it planned to declare war, something that would have prompted a full mobilization of the armed forces and allowed conscription.
The Russian leader also said that Russia had done everything possible to come up with a security agreement with Europe, calling it a “fair compromise including the interests of everyone.”
But NATO countries “did not want to hear us. That means they had completely different plans,” Putin said. “NATO started exploring the lands close to us. And that became an obvious threat to our country and to our borders.”
The invasion was “the only right decision,” he added. The U.S. and Europeans largely dismiss this excuse from Putin, saying that the Russian leader has long sought to pursue a Russian colonial project and to destabilize Ukrainian democracy, which they argue he perceives as a threat.
In a statement published late on Sunday ahead of Europe Day, which is also on May 9, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell defended the EU’s response to the war in Ukraine. Borrell underlined the bloc’s political unity in the face of the Russian aggression, while EU ambassadors negotiate the sixth package of sanctions, which has led to internal divisions.