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Russia marks Victory Day — although celebrations are scaled back

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Russia held its Victory Day celebrations. Soldiers in dress uniforms marched with arms swinging across Red Square outside the Kremlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

This is an annual event marking the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, but it's hard to watch without thinking about the other war - that's Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Overnight, Russia conducted airstrikes on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and other targets. Ukrainian officials say they intercepted nearly all the Russian missiles.

INSKEEP: NPR's Russia correspondent Charles Maynes has been watching the ceremonies in Moscow. Hey there, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Morning.

INSKEEP: So what stood out for you as far as what was there or what was not there on Red Square today?

MAYNES: Well, you know, the ceremony on Red Square intentionally echoes the grand Soviet military parades of the past, yet this year's event seems somewhat muted, I would say. There were just a few international leaders in attendance. There were fewer troops, fewer tanks and missiles on display than, say, last year, perhaps because of the questionable optics of using the best of what Russia has in a televised parade while actual combat is going on in Ukraine. Now, as he did last year, Putin drew direct parallels between the Soviet victory in 1945 and Russian forces battling what he called a cult of Nazism today. In fact, there were soldiers and military families from the current military campaign in the audience, and Putin addressed them directly.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: So here Putin tells them there's nothing more important than their combat duty today and that they're fighting for the future of the Russian people and the country. And it's worth pointing out that even before the war in Ukraine, some Russians were highly uncomfortable with the way Putin has politicized this holiday in general, but amid the fighting in Ukraine, there's real concern that these comparisons with World War II undermine legitimate pride in the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany - a war effort, I remind you, that took more than 20 million lives.

INSKEEP: Yeah. What was security like, given that Russia says there were drone attacks on the Kremlin the other day?

MAYNES: Well, it's never loose, but security was tighter this year in part because of these drone incidents over which there's still a lot of questions as to what actually happened. We just don't know. What we do know is there were already concerns over safety amid the holiday. Nationally, authorities scrapped ceremonies in which Russians honor family members who died in World War II by marching with pictures of them through the streets. Now, formally, that decision was made due to security concerns, but again, you know, you have to wonder about the optics of Russians carrying pictures of dead soldiers, particularly as there's this intense debate over the real numbers of casualties in Ukraine.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. Do you get any sense of how Russian leaders, insiders, feel about the way the war is going in Ukraine?

MAYNES: Well, this holiday, it comes as we see top Russian military figures, not for the first time, at each other's throats. In particular, the head of the main Russian mercenary force, the Wagner Group, has in recent days publicly laid into the defense minister over a lack of ammunition and other issues. And again, it just plays this contrast between past and present. World War II is this story of incredible sacrifice that affected nearly every family in the Soviet Union - including, I might add, Ukrainian families.

INSKEEP: Sure.

MAYNES: And it's a story we know ended in victory. The war in Ukraine, however, is a story of a military campaign where the military has so far struggled to achieve its goals. And it's a story whose conclusion still seems very much in doubt.

INSKEEP: NPR's Charles Maynes is in Moscow, and, Charles, I'm glad you're there. Thanks very much for your insights.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.