MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine in an address marking Victory Day, a holiday celebrating the 1945 defeat of the Nazis in World War II.
According to The Associated Press, Putin’s remarks came Monday during a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square. He said Russia was “forced” to take action because “the danger was rising by the day.”
“Russia has given a preemptive response to an aggression,” he said, claiming Ukraine had posed “a threat that was absolutely unacceptable to us.”
Putin also criticized the West, alleging that “NATO countries did not want to hear us” and “had very different plans,” according to CNN.
He added that Russian troops, which first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, are fighting “so that no one will forget the lessons of World War II, and there will be no place for hangmen, executioners and the Nazis,” the AP reported.
Officials from Ukraine and its Western allies have repeatedly denied Putin’s claims of Ukrainian aggression, according to the AP. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told CNN that Russia “has nothing to celebrate.”
“They have only succeeded in isolating themselves internationally and becoming a pariah state around the globe,” she said in an interview with the news outlet.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a video address Monday, saying Ukraine “will never forget what our ancestors did in World War II,” CNN reported.
“Very soon, there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine, and someone won’t have any,” Zelenskyy said, according to CNN. “We won then. We will win now.”
Since the invasion began, at least 3,309 civilians have been killed and 3,493 have been injured in Ukraine, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner reported Friday. The number of military deaths, however, is harder to verify. The Washington Post, citing a NATO official, reported in late March that as many as 15,000 Russian troops had died in the fighting, while the Ukrainian government said last week that the number of slain Russian soldiers had grown to 21,900, according to Forbes. Zelenskyy said last month that up to 3,000 Ukrainian troops had died, but Russia claimed in late March that it had killed 14,000 Ukrainian soldiers, Forbes reported.
The fighting also has displaced millions of people living in Ukraine. As of Friday, more than 5.8 million people had fled from Ukraine to other countries, including nearly 3.2 million to neighboring Poland, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.