- Russian president speaks in Volgograd
- Eighty years have passed since the Soviet victory in Stalingrad
- Putin draws parallels with Russia’s campaign in Ukraine
- This content was produced in Russia, where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine.
VOLGOGRAD, Russia, Feb. 2 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin summoned the spirit of the Soviet military that defeated Nazi German forces at Stalingrad 80 years ago to declare on Thursday that Russia would defeat a Ukraine supposedly in the throes of a new incarnation of Nazism.
In a fiery speech in Volgograd, known as Stalingrad until 1961, Putin denounced Germany for helping to arm Ukraine and said, not for the first time, that he was ready to use Russia’s entire arsenal, including nuclear weapons.
“Unfortunately, we see that the ideology of Nazism in its modern form and manifestation once again poses a direct threat to 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 fend off the aggression of the collective West. It is unbelievable but it is a fact: we are again threatened by German Leopard tanks with crosses on them.”
View 2 more stories
Russian officials draw parallels to the fight against the Nazis since Russian troops entered Ukraine nearly a year ago.
Ukraine – which was part of the Soviet Union and was itself destroyed at the hands of Hitler’s troops – dismisses those parallels as false pretenses for an imperial war of conquest.
Stalingrad was the bloodiest battle of World War II, as the Soviet Red Army broke through the German invasion forces in 1942-1943 with over 1 million casualties.
Putin summoned what he believed to be the ghosts of Stalingrad’s defenders to explain why he thought Russia would triumph in Ukraine, saying that World War II struggles had become a symbol of “the indestructible nature of our people” .
“Those who draw European countries, including Germany, into another war with Russia, and … expect to win a victory over Russia on the battlefield, apparently do not understand that a modern war with Russia will be very different for them,” he added.
“We are not sending our tanks to their borders, but we have the means to respond, and it will not end with the use of armored vehicles, everyone needs to understand that.”
When Putin finished speaking, the audience gave him a standing ovation.
Putin had previously laid flowers at the grave of the Soviet marshal who oversaw the defense of Stalingrad and visited the city’s main memorial complex, where he held a minute’s silence in honor of those who died in the battle.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Volgograd to watch a victory parade as planes flew overhead and modern World War II tanks and armored vehicles passed by.
Some modern vehicles had the letter ‘V’ painted on them, a symbol used by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine.
Irina Zolotoreva, a 61-year-old who said her relatives fought at Stalingrad, saw a parallel with Ukraine.
“Our country fights for justice, for freedom. We were victorious in 1942 and that is an example for the current generation. I think we will win again no matter what.”
The focal point for the commemorations was the Mamayev Kurgan Memorial Complex, on a hill overlooking the Volga River, dominated by a colossal statue called The Motherland Calls – of a woman brandishing a giant sword.
The five-month battle left the city that bore the name of Soviet leader Josef Stalin in ruins, leaving an estimated 2 million dead and injured on both sides.
A new bust of Stalin was erected in Volgograd on Wednesday, along with two others, of Soviet marshals Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Vasilyevsky.
Despite Stalin’s record as the leader of a famine that killed millions and political oppression that killed hundreds of thousands, Russian politicians and textbooks in recent years have emphasized his role as a successful wartime leader who turned the Soviet Union into a superpower.
Reporting by Tatiana Gomozova Writing by Andrew Osborn Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Kevin Liffey
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.