Home Headline Emboldened in Ukraine, Russia marks patriotic holiday

Emboldened in Ukraine, Russia marks patriotic holiday

President Vladimir Putin, on Friday (Feb 23) hailed the "authentic heroes" fighting in Ukraine on the eve of the second anniversary of the offensive, bolstered by gains against ammunition-starved Ukrainian troops.

AFP

Putin’s message came on Moscow’s “Defender of the Fatherland Day” patriotic holiday, which has always been a chance for military pomp and Kremlin-sponsored patriotism.

“In these past years, the military and industrial complexes have multiplied both weapons production and supplies to troops,” Putin added in a video message put out by the Russian presidency.

This year the holiday falls with Putin inspired by the symbolic capture of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka and as Russia revels in the US Congress blocking vital military aid to Kyiv.

Ahead of an election certain to extend Putin’s long reign, a massive crackdown has all but crushed dissent and the Russian leader’s main opponent – Alexei Navalny – is dead.

Putin has spent recent days flying bomber planes, handing out medals to troops and touting a “turning point” in Ukraine.

Earlier this week he mocked what he called the “chaotic flight” of Ukrainian soldiers from Avdiivka.

“This is a special page in the history of combat operations in general and in Russia’s defence of its vital interests,” Putin said of Moscow’s capture of the city that had been under attack fr months.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has been weakened by the blocking of US aid, its failed counter-offensive and worsening ammunition shortages, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledging an “extremely difficult” situation on the front.

After two years fighting a bigger and richer army, Ukrainian forces are exhausted, with the fall of Avdiivka after months of bloody battles a blow to morale for its troops in the east.

“It’s extremely hard,” Ukrainian infantryman Oleksiy, told AFP in east Ukraine, caked in mud after returning from the trenches.

“We don’t have weapons like they have. You know, they have factories for production, and us? We beg for weapons. That’s the way it is,” the 32 year-old said.

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FRESH SANCTIONS

In Moscow, Putin is to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin walls and traditionally greets troops on the holiday.

The holiday is also marked with pomp in schools, which have seen unprecedented levels of militarisation since Putin launched the Ukraine campaign.

Russia has banned all criticism of its campaign, punishing thousands for denouncing the offensive, with repression comparable to late Soviet levels.

The United States is on Friday to announce new sanctions on Moscow over the death last week of Putin’s opponent Navalny in his Arctic prison.

The UN Security Council will also convene Friday, marking two years of the conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

“UPSET” BUT NOT “DISCOURAGED”

In Kyiv, foreign dignitaries are expected to descend onto the capital, two years after Ukrainian forces fended off Russian forces who almost took the city in an assault that shocked the world.

Two years ago, on the eve of Moscow’s offensive, Zelenskyy had pleaded for Russians not to support a military attack on Ukraine.

Despite Ukraine going through precarious moments during the two-year battle against Russian forces, Kyiv’s troops and society are still determined to reclaim their territory.

“We must win,” Zelenskyy said this week.

In one of few areas of success for Ukraine in recent weeks, Kyiv continues to inflict damage on the Russian navy in the Black sea.

In eastern Ukraine, soldier Oleksiy who was holding the fallback lines outside Avdiivka, said that while the fall of the industrial hub affected morale, troops were ready to fight on.

“Absolutely, of course we were upset. But nevertheless, nobody’s discouraged,” he said, with an AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his neck.

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