VOLGOGRAD: President Vladimir Putin evoked the spirit of the Soviet army that defeated Nazi German forces at Stalingrad 80 years ago to declare on Thursday that Russia would defeat a Ukraine supposedly in the grip of a new incarnation of Nazism.
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russia was building up its troops to take “revenge” on the West nearly a year into Moscow’s invasion.
He levelled the warning in Kyiv alongside EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, who said the 27-member bloc was looking to finalise another package of sanctions against Russia by February 24, exactly one year since Russia invaded.
Von der Leyen arrived in Kyiv on Thursday with a team of commissioners and the EU’s most senior diplomat Josep Borrell ahead of a Ukraine-EU summit on Friday in the war-torn country that is seeking EU membership.
In a fiery speech in Volgograd, known as Stalingrad until 1961, Putin lambasted Germany for helping to arm Ukraine and said, not for the first time, that he was ready to draw on Russia’s entire arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons.
“Unfortunately we see that the ideology of Nazism in its modern form and manifestation again directly threatens the security of our country,” Putin told an audience of army officers and members of local patriotic and youth groups.
“Again and again we have to repel the aggression of the collective West. It’s incredible but it’s a fact: we are again being threatened with German Leopard tanks with crosses on them.”
Russian officials have been drawing parallels with the struggle against the Nazis ever since Russian forces entered Ukraine almost a year ago.
Ukraine — which was part of the Soviet Union and itself suffered devastation at the hands of Hitler’s forces — rejects those parallels as spurious pretexts for a war of imperial conquest.
Stalingrad was the bloodiest battle of World War Two, when the Soviet Red Army, at a cost of over 1 million casualties, broke the back of German invasion forces in 1942-3.
Putin evoked what he said was the spirit of the defenders of Stalingrad to explain why he thought Russia would prevail in Ukraine, saying the World War Two battle had become a symbol of “the indestructible nature of our people”.
“Those who draw European countries, including Germany, into a new war with Russia, and ... expect to win a victory over Russia on the battlefield, apparently don’t understand that a modern war with Russia will be quite different for them,” he added.
“We don’t send our tanks to their borders but we have the means to respond, and it won’t end with the use of armoured vehicles, everyone must understand that.” Zelensky called on Europe to implement sanctions more quickly and said the West should take steps to clamp down on sanctions circumvention.
“The terrorist state is increasing the pace of adaptation to sanctions instead. It should be resolved,” Zelensky said.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2023
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