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Putin says Russia’s army is ‘always ready’ as country marks World War II victory

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said his forces were “always ready” to combat external threats, as he addressed crowds gathered at Moscow’s Red Square on Thursday to celebrate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Russia’s annual May 9 Victory Day procession has long been a key event in Putin’s calendar as a chance for him to rally public support and show off his country’s military power.

While there were even fewer soldiers and military gear on display than last year’s already subdued event, Victory Day this year comes with Russia making advances on the frontlines in Ukraine.

Putin gave his speech after inspecting the traditional display of tanks and columns of troops parading through the capital.

“Russia will do everything in order to not let a global confrontation begin,” Putin said, adding: “But we will not let anyone threaten us, our strategic forces are always ready.”

“Dear friends, Russia is going through a difficult period,” the Russian leader continued, saying the “fight of our motherland depends on every one of us.”

“Today, on the Victory Day, we realize this even more so,” he concluded, ending his speech with a minute of silence.

Around 27 million people in the Soviet Union died in World War II, more than in any other country.

Russia’s defense minister, Army General Sergei Shoigu, said in a statement on Telegram that 9,000 people and 70 pieces of military equipment would participate in the main military parade on Red Square.

This was less than last year, when Shoigu said more than 10,000 people and 125 items of military hardware would be involved.

Several world leaders, mostly from ex-Soviet countries, were invited.

Those scheduled to be there were Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Serdar Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan, Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba, Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos, and Umaro Sissoco Embaló of Guinea-Bissau.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told TASS in an interview that “unfriendly countries” were not invited for a third Victory Day since the war in Ukraine began.

“They are pursuing an aggressive policy toward our country. They formulate it as inflicting strategic defeat,” Zakharova said.

Putin has portrayed his invasion of Ukraine in patriotic terms — as a response to a threat posed by the West, something flatly rejected by Kyiv and its allies.

His Victory Day address comes just days after the Russian leader was inaugurated for a fifth term in office, in a carefully choreographed ceremony.

The inauguration, held Tuesday in the Kremlin, was attended by Russia’s top military and political brass, but the United States and many European nations declined to send a representative after dismissing Russia’s elections as a sham.

It further cemented Putin’s grip on power in Russia, where he has served as either president or prime minister since his first inauguration in 2000, and tinkered with Russia’s constitution to remove term limits and extend each term’s length from four years to six.

This post appeared first on cnn.com