Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s future “rests on” the soldiers fighting in Ukraine, during his annual speech to mark Victory Day in Moscow.
“There is nothing more important now than your combat effort,” he said.
The military parade, which commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, was scaled back this year for security.
Mr Putin also used his speech to justify his invasion of Ukraine, while accusing “Western globalist elites” of provoking conflicts.
Civilisation is again “at a decisive turning point”, he said in Moscow’s Red Square to a crowd composed of just officials and veterans, as the event was not open to the public.
Addressing the troops fighting in Ukraine – some of whom were present – Mr Putin said a “real war” had been “unleashed” against Russia. The reality is that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine.
“The security of the country rests on you today, the future of our statehood and our people depend on you,” he told them.
This was the second Victory Day parade since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
But a series of explosions and incidents of sabotage across Russia in recent weeks saw the celebrations scaled back because of security concerns.
In one incident last week, there was an alleged drone attack on the Kremlin. Russia claimed it was an attempt on Mr Putin’s life and pointed the finger squarely at Ukraine and the US, but both denied any involvement.
This year’s celebration had 3,000 fewer soldiers and less military hardware on display. The parade was shorter, while there was no military flypast and no modern tanks, which are usually a feature of the parade. On Tuesday, the only tank on display was the T-34 from World War Two.
However, for the first time since 2020, a handful of international leaders attended.
All the Central Asian leaders were there, including Kazakhstan’s Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and Armenia’s prime minister were also at Red Square.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said the late decision of the Central Asian leaders to attend “likely indicates their reticence to show direct and public support of the war”.
Mr Putin’s speech followed similar themes to last year, likening the fight with Ukraine’s “criminal regime” to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
He took aim at the West, saying “their goal is nothing else but to see the fall of our country”.
Mr Putin said Russia wanted to see a “peaceful future”, but accused Western elites of sowing the seeds of “hatred and Russophobia” and destroying family values.
But much of his speech was focused on his pride for the actions of Russian “heroes” in Ukraine.
“There is no cause stronger in the world than our love for our armed forces,” said Mr Putin, who stands accused of war crimes in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“To Russia, to our armed forces,” he concluded, as the Russian national anthem started to play.
After Mr Putin’s speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen held a news conference in Kyiv.
President Zelensky said that increased attacks on Ukraine in recent weeks had been part of Russian efforts to “present something” to the military and political leadership, having failed to take the eastern city of Bakhmut before Victory Day.
“They have to show that they destroyed something,” he said.
Ms von der Leyen said “the invaders have been dragged out of prisons” to fight on behalf of Russia, which had “dramatically failed” in the war.
Reacting to Mr Putin’s speech, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the EU must not be intimidated by the Russian leader’s “show of force”.
“Let’s stay steadfast in our support for Ukraine – as long as it is necessary,” he told the European Parliament.