Putin defends ‘pre-emptive’ invasion of Ukraine on second World War Victory Day

Russian president claims invasion of Ukraine safeguarding motherland from the hostile West

Fierce fighting raged in eastern Ukraine as Russian president Vladimir Putin saluted his invasion force in the country as heroic defenders of their nation,while his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Kremlin regime and its latest military gambit were "doomed".

Mr Putin oversaw a parade of troops and weaponry through Moscow's Red Square on Victory Day, when Russia celebrates the Soviet Union's role in defeating Nazi Germany, and claimed his war in Ukraine was protecting his country from a hostile West and preventing the return of fascism.

“Russia launched a pre-emptive strike at the aggression. It was a forced, timely and the only correct decision. A decision by a sovereign, strong and independent country,” he said.

“You are fighting for our motherland, its future, so that nobody forgets the lessons of the second World War, so there is no place in the world for torturers, death squads and Nazis.”

Mr Zelenskiy released a video address on Monday in which he strode through Kyiv and denounced a Russian invasion that has killed thousands of civilians, displaced more than 10 million and led to Moscow’s troops being accused of committing war crimes.

“We are fighting for freedom for our children, and therefore we will win. We will never forget what our ancestors did in the second World War. Where more than eight million Ukrainians died and every fifth Ukrainian didn’t return home,” he said.

“The one who is repeating the horrific crimes of Hitler’s regime today, following Nazi philosophy, copying everything they did. He is doomed . . . and therefore he will lose everything,” added Mr Zelenskiy in reference to Russia’s leader of 22 years.

Intense artillery exchanges and gun battles continued in the eastern Donbas region, where Moscow’s forces are advancing slowly in some areas, and to the north in Kharkiv, where Kyiv’s troops are counterattacking and retaking villages near the border.

What about Mariupol?

In mostly Russian-controlled Mariupol, the last Ukrainian fighters in the devastated city continued to hold out in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks, despite continued bombardment by Moscow’s military.

In the Black Sea port of Odesa, which has suffered several missile strikes in recent days, European Council president Charles Michel said the EU would give "maximum" support to Ukraine to help it defeat Russia's "hegemonic war . . . where your schools, hospitals and cities are bombed."

He also highlighted growing fears that Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports and destruction of its farming infrastructure could destabilise world food supply.

“I saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export. This badly needed food is stranded . . . causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries. We need a global response,” he said.

After talks with Mr Michel, Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine was losing $170 million (€161 million) in revenue daily due to Russia's naval blockade.

"Ninety million tonnes of agricultural produce, which Ukraine planned to export to countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe, have been blocked," he said.

Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden has said the cost of supporting Ukraine in their fight against the Russian invasion is not cheap “but caving to aggression is even more costly”.

Mr Biden on Monday signed into law a Bill that will speed up the process of sending military aid to Ukraine. The measure, introduced by a bipartisan group of politicians on Capitol Hill, essentially updates the lend-lease legislation introduced in 1941 by the United States to help its allies during the second World War.

Separately, US media reported that the value of the new aid package for Ukraine proposed by the administration could be increased to nearly $40 billion (€38 billion) under a new plan being worked on by politicians in the House of Representatives. Mr Biden had sought about $33 billion in additional funding.

Mr Biden said the United States will run out of money to provide weapons and other support for Ukraine in less than a fortnight without further funding authorised by the US congress.

He said in a statement on Monday that the need to provide a new package of military, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine was urgent.

“ I have nearly exhausted the resources given to me by a bipartisan majority in congress to support Ukraine’s fighters. This aid has been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield. We cannot allow our shipments of assistance to stop while we await further congressional action. We are approximately ten days from hitting this critical deadline.”

Mr Biden said there appeared to be support for his proposals for a new package of measures for Ukraine among politicians on Capitol Hill in Washington. However he urged them to approve the plan quickly.

The president dropped proposals to combine congressional authorisation for funding for Ukraine with approval for new money for the fight against Covid-19. The two measures will now be pursued separately.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Monday held talks with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in a bid to persuade him to drop opposition to a possible EU embargo on Russian oil imports.