80 years after the Red Army defeated the Wehrmacht in the Battle of Stalingrad, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin accused Germany of allowing himself to be drawn into a war with Russia.
"It's unbelievable, but it's a fact: we're being threatened again with the German Leopard tank," Putin said at a ceremony in Volgograd, which was temporarily renamed Stalingrad because of the anniversary. Signs with the name of Stalingrad were also hung in the city on the Volga.
Putin, who has been at war with Ukraine for almost a year, used the anniversary of the battle to justify attacks on the neighboring country. While the head of state was cheered on by guests, Ukraine was struggling with the aftermath of the recent Russian attacks. After a rocket hit a residential building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, the number of injured rose to more than 20. Three people were rescued dead from the rubble. Meanwhile, the EU once again demonstrated solidarity with Ukraine with a visit by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Putin compares situation in Ukraine to World War II
As in the Second World War, German weapons are being used to fight against Russia on Ukrainian soil, Putin said. However, the 70-year-old himself started the war against Ukraine almost a year ago. "We have something with which to answer. And the matter does not end with the use of armored vehicles. Everyone should understand that," said the leader of the nuclear power. The guests at a celebratory concert where Putin gave the short speech reacted enthusiastically.
Putin made his first public statement since Germany's decision to supply tanks to Ukraine. He accused the "collective West" of pursuing anti-Russian policies similar to those under Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. "Now, unfortunately, we see the ideology of Nazism in a modern face, in its modern expression it again creates a threat to the security of our country," Putin claimed. Germany has repeatedly emphasized that it is not or does not want to become a war party.
Critics repeatedly accuse Putin of using the commemoration days, which are sacred for many Russians, to commemorate the Soviet Union's victory over Hitler's Germany in World War II for his propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine. He started the war against Ukraine on February 24. To date, Russia occupies around 18 percent of Ukraine.
With rocket and drone attacks, Russia has recently also deliberately destroyed energy infrastructure in Ukraine in order to plunge the country into darkness and cold. Again and again, simple houses are hit, which is why many civilians die as a result of Putin's war.
Stalin bust unveiled in Volgograd
Putin repeatedly uses the commemoration of World War II to justify his invasion of Ukraine as a continuation of the fight against Nazism. Only in January did he again accuse the leadership in Kyiv of worshiping the Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera (1909-1959), who helped Hitler at the time, as a hero today. "Therefore we have every reason to describe the current Ukrainian rulers as neo-Nazi," Putin said at a meeting with veterans in St. Petersburg.
According to the Kremlin, Putin met with representatives of patriotic and youth organizations on the Volga. A bust of Stalin was unveiled in Volgograd to commemorate the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1879-1953), who led the country to victory.
The Battle of Stalingrad with hundreds of thousands of dead within 200 days is considered one of the heaviest and most decisive defeats of the German Wehrmacht and thus a turning point in the Second World War. The city was almost completely destroyed in the bitter fighting. On November 19, 1942, the Red Army counterattacked, during which the 6th Army of the German Wehrmacht was surrounded. On February 2, 1943, the last German units were taken prisoner of war. The city has been called Volgograd since 1961.
In the Battle of Stalingrad, many Ukrainians fought in the Red Army alongside Russian soldiers against Hitler's troops. Today the two ex-Soviet republics are fighting each other. After the rocket hit a residential building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again urgently called for help from the West against the Russian attacks. "The only way to stop Russian terrorism is to defeat it. With tanks. Fighter jets. Long-range missiles," he wrote on Twitter.
Von der Leyen with the EU Commission for talks in Kyiv
During her visit to Kyiv, EU Commission President von der Leyen announced further sanctions against Russia. The tenth package of punitive measures against Russia should be decided by February 24 - the anniversary of the Russian invasion. In addition to von der Leyen, 15 other Commissioners also traveled to Kyiv to meet at an EU-Ukraine summit this Friday.