Vladimir Putin attends Russia's Victory Day military parade

Kremlin leader in Red Square hours after latest barrage of missiles hits Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over an annual military parade commemorating the Soviet Union's victory in the Second World War, as his country's modern-day army struggles to gain the upper hand in Ukraine.

Mr Putin was flanked by military veterans in Moscow's Red Square on Tuesday, hours after Russian forces fired their latest barrage of missiles at Ukrainian territory.

In a short speech, he delivered his typical rhetoric on the war by accusing western powers of using Ukraine to threaten Russia.

“A real war has been unleashed against our motherland,” he said.

About 27 million Soviet citizens died in the brutal war with Nazi Germany, a struggle for survival that Mr Putin has likened to the conflict in Ukraine — a comparison dismissed as absurd by western powers.

“Today, civilisation is again at a decisive turning point,” Mr Putin said.

In Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that Russian forces had failed to capture the eastern city of Bakhmut before Tuesday's symbolic date.

He said Russia's political and military leadership had tried and failed to show off results to its people before the Moscow Victory Day parade involving a highly-choreographed display of Russian military might.

"This was the last important military operation that they wanted to complete by the 9th of May," said Mr Zelenskyy.

Mr Putin did not announce any change in Russian strategy as it prepares for an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive this spring.

Just one tank passed across Red Square, a T-34 veteran of the Second World war, after an estimated 1,900 of them were lost during the campaign in Ukraine. A fly-past by fighter jets was also cancelled.

However, the military did display a number of Yars intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles as well as its advanced S-400 surface to air missiles in a reminder of what remains in Russia's arsenal.

This year’s commemoration comes in the shadow of mysterious explosions and drone attacks on Russian territory that have led to some regional parades being cancelled.

Russia recently accused Ukraine of aiming a drone at the Kremlin in a plot to kill Mr Putin, a claim denied by Kyiv.

In remarks released at the same time as Putin's speech, the head of the Wagner mercenary group accused some Russian forces of abandoning their positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine.

"They all fled, exposing the front," said Yevgeny Prigozhin, who repeated a threat that his men would leave Bakhmut if the regular military does not supply more ammunition.

Mr Zelenskyy said in Kyiv that "unfortunately, the city does not exist anymore, everything is fully destroyed".

Struggling for allies on the world stage, Mr Putin welcomed the leaders of former Soviet countries Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan to the Kremlin for Tuesday's parade.

Mr Zelenskyy has symbolically changed the country’s day of commemoration from May 9, the Russian date, to May 8 — the day observed by western allies.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen travelled to Kyiv on Tuesday to show the EU's support for Ukraine on Europe Day - the celebration of the 1950 proposal of the bloc's ancestor, the European Coal and Steel Community.

"Ukraine is on the frontline of the defence of everything we Europeans cherish, our liberty, our democracy, our freedom of thought and speech," she said.

EU lawmakers on Tuesday voted to speed up consideration of a law to boost ammunition production in Europe to the tune of 500 million euros ($550 million).

But Mr Zelenskyy also raised a sore point between the bloc and Ukraine by railing against trade restrictions on Ukrainian products recently imposed by five Eastern European countries with the blessing of Brussels.

"Any restrictions of our exports are absolutely unacceptable," he said.

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria imposed unilateral bans on Ukrainian agricultural products after farmers complained that cheaper Ukrainian produce was hurting their business.

The commission then agreed last week to enforce restrictions on the imports of Ukrainian of wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed until June 5.

Protectionist measures "cannot but disappoint" and must be removed "as soon as possible, said Mr Zelenskyy.

Ms von der Leyen said that it was a "challenging situation."

"The immediate priority now is that the grain transit goes seamlessly and at the lowest possible cost outside from Ukraine towards the European Union," she said.

Ukrainian officials said they had shot down 23 out of 25 missiles in an overnight attack by Russia, with no casualties reported.

The Ukrainian air force said eight Kalibr cruise missiles were launched from carriers in the Black Sea toward the east while 17 were fired from Russian aircraft.

It was the second night in a row of Russian air strikes and the fifth this month after a lull in recent weeks.

Updated: May 09, 2023, 1:59 PM