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UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday that Vladimir Putin’s regime is “mirroring” the actions of the Nazis he claims to be fighting, as the Russian leader held a military parade to commemorate victory in the Second World War.
In a speech at London's National Army Museum, Mr Wallace said Mr Putin and his inner circle were showing "the same disregard for human life, national sovereignty and the rules-based international systems" as dictators of the 20th century.
It came as the Russian leader used the Victory Day parade in Moscow, marking the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, to laud soldiers he claimed were "defending what our fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers fought for" in that conflict.
Western governments have rejected Russia's claim that Ukraine is run by neo-Nazis as a nonsensical pretext for an invasion that is now more than two months old.
“Through their invasion of Ukraine, Mr Putin, his inner circle and generals are now mirroring the fascism and tyranny of 70 years ago, repeating the errors of last century’s totalitarian regimes,” Mr Wallace said.
":Let’s call out the absurdity of Russian generals – resplendent in their manicured parade uniforms, weighed down by their gold braid and glistening medals. They are utterly complicit in Putin’s hijacking of their forebears’ proud history.
"Their unprovoked, illegal, senseless, and self-defeating invasion of Ukraine, their attacks against innocent civilians and their homes, their widespread atrocities, including the deliberate targeting of women and children - they all corrupt the memory of past sacrifices and Russia’s once-proud global reputation."
Russia’s sacrifices in the past should not be forgotten, “nor must the lessons about what lies in store for the perpetrators of such unprovoked brutality”.
“In going to such extremes to justify this war of choice he and his generals are now ripping up both Russia’s past and its future," he will say in a message to Mr Putin.
“Their unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine, attacks against innocent citizens and their homes, and the widespread atrocities — including deliberately against women and children — corrupts the memory of past sacrifices and Russia’s once-proud global reputation.”
Mr Wallace's speech directly accused Russian commanders of war crimes and incompetence in a campaign that has failed to secure the gains expected by Mr Putin. But the defence secretary said decisions in the Kremlin's inner circle should not exonerate the ordinary soldier from complicity in alleged atrocities.
"I do not in any way remove culpability from the ordinary soldier for what horrors they are inflicting," he said, but "their top brass have failed their own rank and file to the extent they should be court-martialled.”
He said that rank and file soldiers in the Russian army “will not get a voice and their mothers and sisters will be shamed into silence”.
Mr Wallace’s speech comes after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Russia of war crimes over the bombing of a school in eastern Ukraine where civilians were sheltering.
Up to 60 are feared dead after the school in Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine was bombed and caught fire on Saturday.
The foreign secretary said she was “horrified” and added that Mr Putin’s regime would be held to account.
About 90 people were thought to have been sheltering at the school, but only 30 have been rescued.
“Horrified by Russia’s latest attack on a school in Luhansk, resulting in the deaths of innocent people sheltering from Russian bombardment,” Ms Truss tweeted.
She said the deliberate attacks on civilians and infrastructure “amounts to war crimes” and “we will ensure Putin’s regime is held accountable”.
On Sunday, G7 leaders including Boris Johnson and Joe Biden held talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Mr Johnson told his counterparts “the world must go further and faster to support Ukraine” against the Kremlin’s invading forces.
“The prime minister said there was a savage irony that the leaders had gathered to discuss Mr Putin’s barbaric invasion on a day when they should be remembering the sacrifice of Russian soldiers defeating fascism in the Second World War," said a Downing Street spokeswoman.
“He agreed with G7 leaders that the world must intensify economic pressure on Mr Putin in any way possible, and said the West must not allow the war to turn into a stalemate that only magnified suffering.
“Ukraine needed to receive military equipment that allowed them to not just hold ground in Ukraine, but recapture it, the Prime Minister told the leaders.”
The G7 agreed more needed to be done to support Ukraine’s agricultural exports, with the war affecting food supplies around the world.
Mr Johnson also urged G7 countries to intensify diplomatic lobbying of countries which were failing to apply pressure on Moscow, “especially as it was clear grossly unjustifiable human rights abuses and war crimes were being committed”, the spokeswoman added.
US officials said two major Russian tank factories had ground to a halt because of the impact of economic sanctions.
The UK has pledged an extra £1.3 billion ($1.6bn) in military support to Ukraine, in a dramatic escalation of assistance for Mr Zelenskyy’s forces as they fight the Russian invasion.
It is the highest rate of UK military spending on a conflict since the height of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.