With CHARLIE HARPER
THIS Sunday is celebrated generally in the West and specifically in the US and UK as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, commemorating the Allied triumph over the Axis powers in World War II. May 8 was the date in 1945 when the German army surrendered to the victorious allies led by America and Great Britain. On the Eastern Front, it took a day longer before the Red Army of the Soviet Union could claim a similar triumph. And while the Western celebration may not be too rousing on Sunday, Vladimir Putin’s Russian army is expected to stage quite a spectacle on Red Square in Moscow on Monday, as has been its custom for decades.
According to reports, the Kremlin is planning to put on quite a show May 9. 11,000 servicemen and women are expected to participate, in addition to 62 fighter aircraft and 15 helicopters. Eight MiG-29s will form the letter Z in a special fly-by formation, referencing the symbol adopted by supporters of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The question many analysts are asking is exactly what the Russians will have to celebrate in their stuttering, brutal attempt to eradicate the independence of their neighbour Ukraine. So far in this largest land war in Europe since the end of World War II, most observers think the Russians aren’t doing very well militarily against a Ukrainian army initially expected to resist for not much longer than a week. But the Ukrainians are proving quite redoubtable in defending their country, and they’re starting to pick up some solid material assistance from the US and its NATO allies. What Putin calls a “special military operation” looks and feels much more like a war likely to last quite a while.
So why is the Kremlin reportedly planning a grand celebration of its “vaunted” military on the vastness of Red Square on Monday? It’s because continuing to commemorate V-E Day in Russia fits Putin’s particular brand of nationalism, an essentially imperialistic vision of his nation on the path to restoring the greatness of its World War II triumph against the Nazis.
The end of the Second World War continues to serve Putin’s aims and ambitions very well indeed. The year 1945 can be venerated as the moment when Moscow’s global reach was at its greatest, while the handful of surviving WW II veterans can be celebrated for their patriotic self-sacrifice and discipline.
Writing in Forbes magazine, one of their regular columnists offered the view that “a last, desperate play at the dice makes sense. Putin’s public speech on May 9 in Red Square offers the Russian president his best — and potentially final — chance for preserving his own survival. Always the showman, Putin, in the brief moment he holds the public stage, will do everything possible to build upon the myth that Russia and the West are locked in a mortal struggle.”
That seems like a good forecast, since the Russian president and his top lieutenants have now been doing exactly that for weeks already. Putin’s belligerent bellicosity, initially dismissed by many in the West as simply fodder for his own version of the Big Lie that Russia’s motives in invading Ukraine are altruistic in their intent to “rescue” beleaguered Russians suffering Ukrainian oppression, has intensified to match the ramping up of Western material support for the Kyiv regime.
Washington and London are leading the charge in expediting deliveries of weapons, ammunition and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, so the most vitriolic, saber-rattling exchanges have been with the US and UK governments.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the other day that “it is absolutely vital that Ukraine do whatever is necessary to defend against Russian aggression,” including offensive forays behind Russian lines to attack supply and logistics centres. “The tactics of this,” Blinken continued ominously, “are decisions for the Ukrainians.”
That sounds like a relatively free pass for Ukraine to pursue the war in ways it sees as best serving its tactical and strategic interests. It also does not sound like evidence that Washington is playing the puppet master in dictating which moves Ukraine may make. Nonetheless, Moscow is working hard to spread the notion that for the Western allies, the current conflict is a “proxy war,” using Ukraine as a device to attack Russia.
Putin spoke sharply about this. “If anyone intends to intervene from the outside and create a strategic threat to Russia that is unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning-fast,” Putin boasted in a recent speech in St Petersburg. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the risk of nuclear war as “real” and “serious.” By sending weapons to help Ukraine to defend itself, Lavrov declared, the US and UK were engaging in a cynical proxy war.
As they very often do, the British are standing very closely beside the Americans in matters of armed conflict. The British joined the Biden administration in speaking and acting resolutely to stand up to the Russian bully. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace told the BBC last week that “it would be legitimate under international law for Ukraine to attack the logistics structure of the Russian army.” And the UK armed forces minister said London would not oppose Ukraine’s use of weaponry supplied by Britain to attack military targets in Russia.
The Russians were outraged anew. Their view of the rules of engagement for this particular war seem to be that all kinds of inhuman brutality and attacks on civilian targets, including hospitals, are OK in the effort to break the Ukrainian will. Summary executions of civilian officials and military prisoners are similarly acceptable. But for the Ukrainian military to actually launch a counterattack? No, that’s off-limits.
A Kremlin spokeswoman said “the West openly calls on Kyiv to attack Russia using, among other things, weapons received from NATO countries,” she huffed. “We advise you not to further test our patience.”
Really? It’s fine for Russia, unprovoked, to launch a massive invasion aimed at obliterating its southeastern neighbour. But it’s against the rules for Ukraine to try to actually counter-attack in an effort to defend itself and force a ceasefire? Maybe this nonsense is acceptable in the sealed Russian information universe created by Putin. But it should be unbelievable anywhere outside that peculiar bubble.
SOUTH FLORIDA ASCENDENT IN THE PLAYOFFS
The long grind of America’s pro basketball and hockey regular seasons has now wrapped up, and as we settle in to our sofas to watch the real season – the playoffs – unfold, South Florida is unusually ascendent.
On the basketball hardwood, the Miami Heat finished with the top seed in the highly competitive Eastern Conference of the NBA. After dispatching an Atlanta Hawks team too dependent on whiz kid guard Trey Young in the first round of the playoffs, the Heat caught a huge break before starting their conference semi-final series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Their big break was literally a break: An eye-bone fracture and concussion suffered by league MVP finalist and Philadelphia centre Joel Embiid in the 76ers’ previous series against Toronto.
That injury means Embiid will miss at least the first two playoff games in Miami, where the Heat cruised to an opening victory on Monday evening. It’s not certain that he will play at all in this series, but the Heat should prevail in any case, and advance to face the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals, assuming the Bucks hold off Boston in what should be the most fiercely contested conference semi-final series.
Meanwhile, over on the ice in Sunrise, the Florida Panthers open their first-round playoff series as the NHL’s top seed against the dangerous underdog Washington Capitals. The Panthers scored more goals this season than any team in the league for 25 years. The Panthers, who haven’t won a single playoff series of any kind in an even longer period, smashed several team trends in futility this season in winning the President’s Trophy for piling up the most points of any team in the NHL.
Individually, the Panthers’ first line left wing Jonathan Huberdeau set a team record with 115 points, and the team was an uncharacteristic buyer at the league’s trade deadline, picking up dangerous scorer and fierce competitor Claude Giroux from the Philadelphia Flyers. Now let’s see how far our “local” teams can advance in this postseason.