Victory Day: Will Putin Formally Declare War on Ukraine Next Week?
Western officials have speculated that next week's Victory Day celebration may be used by Putin to formally declare war.
U.S. and British security officials have suggested in recent days that Russian leader Vladimir Putin could formally declare war on Ukraine on May 9—a decision that would allow him to provide additional reinforcements to Russia’s military, which continues to suffer heavy casualties in Ukraine.
On May 9, Russia’s traditional Victory Day celebrates the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Since the onset of the country’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Western officials have speculated that Putin would use the day’s celebrations, including its annual victory parade through Red Square, as the moment to announce new developments in Ukraine—either a military victory or an expansion of hostilities in the country, possibly including a war declaration.
A declaration of war against Ukraine would mark a significant escalation in Russia’s rhetoric, which has so far described the invasion as a “special military operation” and downplayed the growing number of Russian casualties, including roughly ten generals.
In comments to LBC, a London radio station, British defense secretary Ben Wallace indicated that Putin might “try to move from his ‘special operation’” on May 9.
“He’s been rolling the pitch, laying the ground for being able to say ‘look, this is now a war against Nazis, and what I need is more people,’” Wallace said.
Since the beginning of the invasion, the Kremlin has sought to frame it as a conflict to “demilitarize and de-Nazify” Ukraine. The Russian government and Russian media outlets have alleged that the Ukrainian government in Kyiv has been infiltrated by neo-Nazis associated with the “Azov Battalion,” a far-right militia operating in eastern Ukraine. Although Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed this as evidence against Ukraine’s supposed neo-Nazi infiltration, incorrectly claiming that Adolf Hitler was also Jewish. The Israeli government later called Lavrov’s comments “unforgivable” and summoned the Russian ambassador to Israel in response.
“I would not be surprised, and I don’t have any information about this, that he [Putin] is probably going to declare … that ‘we are now at war with the world’s Nazis and we need to mass mobilize the Russian people,’” Wallace added.
In addition to boosting public support for the invasion, a declaration of war would activate a provision in Russian law allowing Moscow to call up its reserve forces and to draft conscripts, two actions that could help to resuscitate its stalled military offensive in eastern Ukraine. The British government has estimated that around 15,000 Russian soldiers have lost their lives in Ukraine, and much of Russia’s heavy equipment has been damaged, destroyed, or captured by Ukrainian forces.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.