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Communications have today been lost with the last heroic defenders of Mariupol holed up inside the Azovstal steel works, after Russian forces stormed the complex.

Vadym Boichenko, mayor of the besieged city, said there is ‘heavy fighting’ ongoing inside the plant today and that he had ‘lost contact’ with those inside.

There is no way of knowing ‘what’s going on, whether they are safe or not,’ he said.

The grim news came as footage emerged showing Russian forces using what appeared to be lung-crushing thermobaric rockets to bombard Azovstal as tanks and troops moved into the sprawling industrial zone.

Footage released by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic today showed lines of rocket artillery cutting through factories and warehouses that sit in the centre of Mariupol and are the last redoubt of the city’s beleaguered defenders.

Russia appears to to be trying to seize Azovstal despite Vladimir Putin announcing last month that he had called off the operation to preserve the lives of his troops.  

News that communications have been lost will raise fears for the safety of hundreds of civilians thought to be inside, just days after 100 were rescued during a ceasefire.

Ukraine had been calling for the ceasefire to be extended so that all civilians could be removed, but Russia accused Kyiv’s troops of ‘taking advantage’ of the break in fighting to set up new defensive positions and resumed bombing yesterday.

Rocket artillery pounds the Azovstal steel complex, at the heart of the besieged city of Mariupol, as the exiled mayor says communications have been lost with the last troops holed up inside

Rocket artillery pounds the Azovstal steel complex, at the heart of the besieged city of Mariupol, as the exiled mayor says communications have been lost with the last troops holed up inside

Rocket artillery pounds the Azovstal steel complex, at the heart of the besieged city of Mariupol, as the exiled mayor says communications have been lost with the last troops holed up inside

Footage showing the bombardment was released today by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, whose troops are leading attacks on Mariupol alongside regular Russian army units

Footage showing the bombardment was released today by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, whose troops are leading attacks on Mariupol alongside regular Russian army units

Footage showing the bombardment was released today by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, whose troops are leading attacks on Mariupol alongside regular Russian army units

Azovstal is a huge industrial complex made up of factories, warehouses and underground tunnels where an unknown number of Ukrainian troops are holed up alongside hundreds of civilians

Azovstal is a huge industrial complex made up of factories, warehouses and underground tunnels where an unknown number of Ukrainian troops are holed up alongside hundreds of civilians

Azovstal is a huge industrial complex made up of factories, warehouses and underground tunnels where an unknown number of Ukrainian troops are holed up alongside hundreds of civilians

Putin will soon have ‘no way back’ from nuclear war, propagandist claims 

Vladimir Putin will soon have ‘no way back’ but to unleash nuclear weapons on Ukraine, a leading Russian TV war reporter has claimed.

Alexander Sladkov advocated dropping an atomic bomb to cause ‘a crater the size of several regions’ in a ‘demonstrative way’ to intimidate NATO.

Russia has claimed the goal of its military campaign in Ukraine is to ‘liberate’ it from the control of supposed ‘neoNazis’ – despite Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky being Jewish and far-right politicians receiving little support in the country.

But Sladkov – described as a war reporter and ‘propagandist’ – told his 730,000 followers the time may be approaching for the ‘last resort’ due to some 40 countries arming Ukraine with weapons which are being used against the Russians.

The Russian president placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert shortly after its invasion of Ukraine began February 24, though the US says it has seen no sign that Putin is preparing to actually use the weapons.

And amid increasing Western support to Ukraine, Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at a willingness to deploy Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, which Russian military doctrine holds can be used to force an adversary to retreat.

‘There is more and more talk about nuclear weapons, and Russia has much to say about it,’ Sladkov posted. ‘We have a solution for Ukraine.

‘There are several, yet we are getting reminded about the last resort – nuclear weapons. If no-one is going to hear us, and 40 countries keep helping the Ukrainian neoNazis, we will have no way back.’

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Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov battalion which is defending the plant, said an assault on the steel works began Tuesday afternoon with tanks, armoured vehicles, boats and ‘large numbers of infantry’ moving in.

‘We will do everything possible to repel this assault,’ he said in his last video message before communications were cut.

If Azovstal falls then it will mean Russia seizing control over the whole of Mariupol, making it the largest city to be captured by Putin’s forces.

It would also provide the Kremlin with a huge propaganda boost ahead of the annual Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9, marking the surrender of Nazi Germany.

Kyiv said today that Moscow could be planning to hold a parade inside Mariupol itself, in an attempt to claim some semblance of victory after more than two months of fighting. 

Kyiv said an official from Russia’s presidential administration had arrived in the port city, which has been largely destroyed in Russia’s more than two-month invasion of Ukraine, to oversee plans for the Victory Day parade.

‘Mariupol will become a centre of ‘celebration’,’ Ukraine’s military intelligence said in a statement on social media.

‘The central streets of the city are urgently being cleaned of debris, bodies and unexploded ordnance.

‘A large-scale propaganda campaign is under way. Russians will be shown stories about the ‘joy’ of locals on meeting the occupiers,’ it said.

Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko later told Ukrainian television there were ongoing ‘works’ in the city, as if the Russians were preparing for something.

‘They are removing signs of the crimes they have committed,’ he said.

One such ‘crime scene’ exists on the site of the Mariupol theatre, a building with bomb shelters underneath that was being used to house hundreds of civilians when it was struck by a Russian bomb.

Investigators from the Associated Press said today that the attack is now though to have killed at least 600 – including children – which is double the initial estimate put out by the Ukrainians.

AP based its estimate on two sets of floor plans of the venue, photographs and video taken inside before, during and after that day, and feedback from experts who reviewed the methodology.

Azovstal (pictured Tuesday) has been surrounded and bombarded by Russian troops for weeks, but defenders are well protected in tunnels underneath the plant and are believed to have supplies to outlast a lengthy siege

Azovstal (pictured Tuesday) has been surrounded and bombarded by Russian troops for weeks, but defenders are well protected in tunnels underneath the plant and are believed to have supplies to outlast a lengthy siege

Azovstal (pictured Tuesday) has been surrounded and bombarded by Russian troops for weeks, but defenders are well protected in tunnels underneath the plant and are believed to have supplies to outlast a lengthy siege

It is unclear exactly how many troops are inside Azovstal (pictured Tuesday), though Russia puts the figure at 2,000 soldiers and 500 wounded - some of them critically

It is unclear exactly how many troops are inside Azovstal (pictured Tuesday), though Russia puts the figure at 2,000 soldiers and 500 wounded - some of them critically

It is unclear exactly how many troops are inside Azovstal (pictured Tuesday), though Russia puts the figure at 2,000 soldiers and 500 wounded – some of them critically

The TOS-1 thermobaric launcher is comprised of a tank body with a rack of rockets on top that can be used to bombard an area in order to inflict casualties, destroy defensive positions, and pave the way for a ground assault

The TOS-1 thermobaric launcher is comprised of a tank body with a rack of rockets on top that can be used to bombard an area in order to inflict casualties, destroy defensive positions, and pave the way for a ground assault

The TOS-1 thermobaric launcher is comprised of a tank body with a rack of rockets on top that can be used to bombard an area in order to inflict casualties, destroy defensive positions, and pave the way for a ground assault

Thermobaric rockets work by dispersing and then igniting a cloud of fuel, creating a vaccum that will crush the lungs of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the explosion - but will also produce a blast wave that is much more powerful and destructive than average rocket artillery

Thermobaric rockets work by dispersing and then igniting a cloud of fuel, creating a vaccum that will crush the lungs of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the explosion - but will also produce a blast wave that is much more powerful and destructive than average rocket artillery

Thermobaric rockets work by dispersing and then igniting a cloud of fuel, creating a vaccum that will crush the lungs of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the explosion – but will also produce a blast wave that is much more powerful and destructive than average rocket artillery 

Another mystery fire breaks out in Russia amid speculation of Ukrainian sabotage operations 

A mysterious fire has broken out in a Russian industrial zone today, amid mounting suspicion Ukraine is targeting Russian infrastructure.

The most recent fire broke out east of Moscow, one of a series of suspected incidents of sabotage reported within Russia over the past few weeks.

Footage emerged of a large fire in the Dzerzhinsky industrial zone in the Nizhny Novgorod region, deep within the country.

Speculation that Ukraine is responsible for the fires has abounded since the ‘accidents’ began, though Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the damage.

Over a dozen fires in Russia have been reported since the war in Ukraine broke out, with the amount of incidents increasing over the past few weeks as Russia loses ground in Western Ukraine.

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The investigation also refutes Russian claims that the theatre was demolished by Ukrainian forces or served as a Ukrainian military base because none of the witnesses saw Ukrainian soldiers operating inside the building.

It likely makes the Mariupol bombing the single-deadliest attack on civilians of the entire war – which was carried out despite the word ‘children’ being painted in Russian in huge letters outside the building, to warn soldiers that innocent people were taking shelter there.

Freed up from fighting in the city, Russian troops could then move north to join the battle for Donbas – widely viewed as pivotal to the outcome of the war. 

As fighting raged in Mariupol, Russian forces pounded targets elsewhere in Ukraine, targeting train lines used to bring foreign weapons into the west of the country while also stepping up attacks on the eastern front.

The Russian military said Wednesday it used sea- and air-launched precision guided electrical substations at five rail stations, while artillery and aircraft also struck troop strongholds and fuel and ammunition depots.

While the Russian attacks were across a wide swath of Ukraine, some were concentrated in and around Lviv, the western city close to the Polish border that has been a gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.

Explosions were heard late Tuesday in the city, which has seen only sporadic attacks during the war and has become a haven for civilians fleeing the fighting elsewhere. 

The mayor said the strikes damaged three power substations, knocking out electricity in parts of the city and disrupting the water supply. Two people were hurt.

The attacks on rail infrastructure were meant to disrupt the delivery of Western weapons, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, while his boss, Minister Sergei Shoigu, told top military brass that the West was ‘stuffing Ukraine with weapons.’

Western weaponry pouring into Ukraine helped its forces blunt Russia’s initial offensive and seems certain to play a central role in the battle for the Donbas, which Moscow now says is its focus following its failure to take Kyiv in the early weeks of the war.

Ukraine has urged the West to ramp up the supply of weapons ahead of that potentially decisive battle. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, which had been slow at first to help arm Ukraine, said Wednesday his government is considering supplying Ukraine with howitzers, in addition to Gepard anti-aircraft guns and other equipment.

A satellite image taken of the Azovstal steel works on Tuesday shows heavy damage to some of the plant's main building, which sit above an underground network of tunnels

A satellite image taken of the Azovstal steel works on Tuesday shows heavy damage to some of the plant's main building, which sit above an underground network of tunnels

A satellite image taken of the Azovstal steel works on Tuesday shows heavy damage to some of the plant’s main building, which sit above an underground network of tunnels

Smoke rises from part of the Azovstal complex in this satellite image taken on Tuesday, when Russian forces were carrying out a heavy bombardment of the area

Smoke rises from part of the Azovstal complex in this satellite image taken on Tuesday, when Russian forces were carrying out a heavy bombardment of the area

Smoke rises from part of the Azovstal complex in this satellite image taken on Tuesday, when Russian forces were carrying out a heavy bombardment of the area

Heavily damaged factory buildings (bottom) are seen next to buildings that have only medium levels of damage (top) inside the Azovstal steel works in satellite images taken on Tuesday

Heavily damaged factory buildings (bottom) are seen next to buildings that have only medium levels of damage (top) inside the Azovstal steel works in satellite images taken on Tuesday

Heavily damaged factory buildings (bottom) are seen next to buildings that have only medium levels of damage (top) inside the Azovstal steel works in satellite images taken on Tuesday

Russia surrounded the Azovstal complex weeks ago and has been bombarding it ever since, except for a short pause last week when around 100 civilians were able to evacuate - with hundreds still thought to be in there

Russia surrounded the Azovstal complex weeks ago and has been bombarding it ever since, except for a short pause last week when around 100 civilians were able to evacuate - with hundreds still thought to be in there

Russia surrounded the Azovstal complex weeks ago and has been bombarding it ever since, except for a short pause last week when around 100 civilians were able to evacuate – with hundreds still thought to be in there

Survivors of steelwork hell humiliated by Vladimir Putin’s troops 

Refugees from Mariupol were subjected to a humiliating interrogation by Russian troops before they were finally freed from the steelworks where they had been hiding for two months.

Exhausted survivors told the Daily Mail they were called ‘Ukrainian scum’, had their underwear checked and were forced to give their fingerprints at a Russian checkpoint before they were allowed to board Red Cross buses.

Dozens of refugees arriving at a UN aid centre in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia yesterday also gave horrifying accounts of their time cowering in bunkers at the Azovstal steelworks.

Tonight, there were fears for hundreds of civilians still trapped at the Soviet-era site as Russian bombs rained down in a relentless barrage.

Around 156 survivors were rescued in a mercy mission at the weekend after the Red Cross managed to secure a ceasefire.

 But it emerged that part of the deal with the Kremlin meant the evacuees had to be ‘screened’ by brutish Russian soldiers at the occupied town of Bezimenne, 30 miles east from Mariupol, before they were released back into Ukrainian-held territory.

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Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, said attacks in the eastern Donbas region left 21 civilians dead.

The governor of the eastern Donetsk region, which lies in the Donbas, said Tuesday was the deadliest day for civilians in his region since April 8, when a missile attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk killed at least 59 people.

Russia has deployed a significant number of troops in the region and appears to be trying to advance in the north, as they try to cut Ukrainian forces off, according to an assessment from the British Defense Ministry. 

However, Moscow’s push has been slow as Ukrainian fighters dig in and use long-range weapons to target the Russians.

In addition to supplying weapons to Ukraine, Europe and the United States have sought to punish Moscow with sanctions. 

The EU’s top official called on the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday to ban Russian oil imports.

‘We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,’ European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

The proposals need unanimous approval from EU countries and are likely to be the subject of fierce debate. Hungary and Slovakia have already said they won’t take part in any oil sanctions, but von der Leyen didn’t elaborate on whether they would receive an exemption, which appears likely.

Von der Leyen also proposed that Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, and two other major banks be disconnected from the SWIFT international banking payment system.

But Hungary warned that it could not support the proposed EU ban on Russian oil in its current form as it would ‘completely destroy’ its energy supply security.

The proposal ‘cannot be responsibly supported in this form, we cannot responsibly vote for it,’ said Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in a video message posted on his Facebook page.

‘This sanctions package would completely destroy the security of Hungary’s energy supply,’ he said.

The EU proposal would ban Russian crude gradually over the next six months and refined fuels by the end of this year, but Hungary and Slovakia – both highly depending on Moscow’s oil exports – would get until the end of 2023.

Parents who were evacuated from the Azovstal steel works shortly before Russia began its attack embrace with their young child after being evacuated during a ceasefire last week

Parents who were evacuated from the Azovstal steel works shortly before Russia began its attack embrace with their young child after being evacuated during a ceasefire last week

Parents who were evacuated from the Azovstal steel works shortly before Russia began its attack embrace with their young child after being evacuated during a ceasefire last week

A woman with an injured are is taken off a bus transporting evacuees from the Azovstal steel works to Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian-controlled city some 125 miles to the north

A woman with an injured are is taken off a bus transporting evacuees from the Azovstal steel works to Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian-controlled city some 125 miles to the north

A woman with an injured are is taken off a bus transporting evacuees from the Azovstal steel works to Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian-controlled city some 125 miles to the north

People tearfully embrace at a reception centre for refugees evacuated from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, who were brought out during a ceasefire last week just before Russia attacked

People tearfully embrace at a reception centre for refugees evacuated from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, who were brought out during a ceasefire last week just before Russia attacked

People tearfully embrace at a reception centre for refugees evacuated from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, who were brought out during a ceasefire last week just before Russia attacked

A tearful reunion takes place between evacuees of the Azovstal steel plant as they arrive in the city of Zaporizhzhia

A tearful reunion takes place between evacuees of the Azovstal steel plant as they arrive in the city of Zaporizhzhia

A tearful reunion takes place between evacuees of the Azovstal steel plant as they arrive in the city of Zaporizhzhia

‘The delivery of crude oil from Russia to Europe would be banned, with a short deadline, in the case of Hungary from the end of next year,’ Szijjarto said.

Ambassadors from the 27 European Union countries met on Wednesday to assess the plan, which will need unanimous approval before going into effect.

Szijjarto said Budapest would back the proposal if crude oil delivered via pipelines was exempted from the EU’s ban.

‘This is not a question of lack of political will, or of intention or timing, but simply this is the physical, geographical, and infrastructural reality,’ he said.

According to the government, 65 percent of Hungary’s oil and 85 percent of its gas supplies come from Russia.

Hungary has long ruled out supporting any import ban with Prime Minister Viktor Orban – who has cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years – citing the central European country’s dependency on Russian gas and oil.

‘We don’t see any plan or guarantee on how even a transition could be managed on the basis of the current proposals, and what would guarantee Hungary’s energy security,’ the Hungarian government’s press office said in a statement sent to AFP earlier Wednesday.

Putin puts the finishing touches to his embarrassingly downsized Victory Day parade as fighters fly in a ‘Z’ formation over Moscow

Fighter jets in a ‘Z’ formation ripped through the skies over Moscow today as Russia puts the final preparations on its Victory Day parade – an annual show of strength that Putin will use to drum up support for the war in Ukraine.

Eight MiG-29 jets formed the Z, a symbol that is now synonymous with the war and which is expected to conclude the fly-past on May 9, marking the day the Nazis surrendered to the Soviets at the end of World War Two.

They were joined by an Ilyushin Il-80 – a modified passenger jet known as Putin’s ‘doomsday plane’ because it is where he will rule the country from in the event of nuclear Armageddon – which has not featured in past parades.

Despite the addition of the doomsday jet, the Victory Day parade is set to be markedly smaller than in previous years because Russia has committed – and lost – so many of its military vehicles fighting in Ukraine.

Eight MiG-29 fighters form up into the shape of a 'Z' - a symbol that has become synonymous with Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine - as they take part in a rehearsal fly-past for the Victory Day parade due to take place on May 9

Eight MiG-29 fighters form up into the shape of a 'Z' - a symbol that has become synonymous with Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine - as they take part in a rehearsal fly-past for the Victory Day parade due to take place on May 9

Eight MiG-29 fighters form up into the shape of a ‘Z’ – a symbol that has become synonymous with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – as they take part in a rehearsal fly-past for the Victory Day parade due to take place on May 9

An Ilyushin Il-80 jet - a Soviet-era passenger plane modified as a government control centre - flies over the Kremlin. The plane is known as Putin's 'doomsday jet' because it would allow him to remain in charge in the event of a nuclear attack

An Ilyushin Il-80 jet - a Soviet-era passenger plane modified as a government control centre - flies over the Kremlin. The plane is known as Putin's 'doomsday jet' because it would allow him to remain in charge in the event of a nuclear attack

An Ilyushin Il-80 jet – a Soviet-era passenger plane modified as a government control centre – flies over the Kremlin. The plane is known as Putin’s ‘doomsday jet’ because it would allow him to remain in charge in the event of a nuclear attack

Su-25 bombers - trailing smoke in the colours of the Russian flag - are pictured flying over the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a short distance from the Red Square in Moscow

Su-25 bombers - trailing smoke in the colours of the Russian flag - are pictured flying over the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a short distance from the Red Square in Moscow

Su-25 bombers – trailing smoke in the colours of the Russian flag – are pictured flying over the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a short distance from the Red Square in Moscow

Three MiG-31 fighter jets take part in rehearsals for the Victory Day parade and are photographed against the spire of the Kremlin's Clock tower, in Moscow

Three MiG-31 fighter jets take part in rehearsals for the Victory Day parade and are photographed against the spire of the Kremlin's Clock tower, in Moscow

Three MiG-31 fighter jets take part in rehearsals for the Victory Day parade and are photographed against the spire of the Kremlin’s Clock tower, in Moscow

Russian MiG-29 jets of Swifts display team are joined by  Su-30SM jet of the Russian Knights display team as they fly in formation above the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in downtown Moscow

Russian MiG-29 jets of Swifts display team are joined by  Su-30SM jet of the Russian Knights display team as they fly in formation above the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in downtown Moscow

Russian MiG-29 jets of Swifts display team are joined by  Su-30SM jet of the Russian Knights display team as they fly in formation above the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in downtown Moscow

A Tupolev Tu-95 nuclear-capable bomber is accompanied by Su-35S fighters as it takes part in a rehearsal fly-past in Moscow today, in preparation for the May 9 Victory Day parade

A Tupolev Tu-95 nuclear-capable bomber is accompanied by Su-35S fighters as it takes part in a rehearsal fly-past in Moscow today, in preparation for the May 9 Victory Day parade

A Tupolev Tu-95 nuclear-capable bomber is accompanied by Su-35S fighters as it takes part in a rehearsal fly-past in Moscow today, in preparation for the May 9 Victory Day parade

A Tupolev Tu-22 bomber is pictured between the spires of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in central Moscow, just a short distance from the Red Square outside the Kremlin

A Tupolev Tu-22 bomber is pictured between the spires of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in central Moscow, just a short distance from the Red Square outside the Kremlin

A Tupolev Tu-22 bomber is pictured between the spires of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in central Moscow, just a short distance from the Red Square outside the Kremlin

The aerial display will feature just three Ka-52 and Mi-28 helicopters – compared to five each in 2020 and 2021 – because they are providing the mainstay of Russian helicopter forces in Ukraine.

In the case of the Ka-52, a large number have also been shot down with open-source analyst Oliver Alexander estimating that Russia has lost 10 per cent of its total fleet.

The aerial display will also not feature any combat-ready Su-30 or Su-34 jets, because they are also in use in Ukraine with many Su-34s having been shot from the skies.

Instead, the display will be bulked up with older Su and MiG models. It will also feature a formation of Soviet-era Tu-22M jets that did not take part in the 2021 display.

The additional aircraft mean the air display will actually be slightly larger than in previous years, with 77 jet as opposed to 76 in 2021 and 75 in 2020 – however, the ground element of the parade will be noticeably smaller.

Just 131 vehicles will parade past the Kremlin, a third fewer than the 197 vehicles that took part in 2021 and a little less than half the 234 that featured in 2020.

Most notably, the parade will feature far fewer combat-ready systems than it did in previous years – particularly when it comes to rocket artillery and tanks, both of which have taken heavy losses in Ukraine.

Rosgvardia units – known as Putin’s personal army – will also be reduced in this year’s parade, having been heavily used in early stages of the fighting and having suffered crippling losses.

Most of the parade will instead be made up of Russia’s next-generation weaponry that it has spent years developing and equipping with the latest technology, but which it has never produced in large-enough numbers to put into battle across its western border.

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Russian MiG-31 fighter jets fly in formation above the Bolshoi Theatre (left), followed by four Sukhoi Su-24 fighters (right) which are pictured behind the Kremlin clock tower

A MiG-31 fighter jet (left) and an Il-78 air tanker (right) carry out a simulated mid-air refueling of a Tu-160 supersonic nuclear bomber above the State Historical Museum in Moscow, in preparation for the Victory Day parade

A MiG-31 fighter jet (left) and an Il-78 air tanker (right) carry out a simulated mid-air refueling of a Tu-160 supersonic nuclear bomber above the State Historical Museum in Moscow, in preparation for the Victory Day parade

A MiG-31 fighter jet (left) and an Il-78 air tanker (right) carry out a simulated mid-air refueling of a Tu-160 supersonic nuclear bomber above the State Historical Museum in Moscow, in preparation for the Victory Day parade

Three MiG-31 fighters and an Il-78 air tanker are seen simulating the refuelling of a Tu-160 strategic bomber against he backdrop of the Cathedral of the Annunciation inside the Kremlin, Moscow

Three MiG-31 fighters and an Il-78 air tanker are seen simulating the refuelling of a Tu-160 strategic bomber against he backdrop of the Cathedral of the Annunciation inside the Kremlin, Moscow

Three MiG-31 fighters and an Il-78 air tanker are seen simulating the refuelling of a Tu-160 strategic bomber against he backdrop of the Cathedral of the Annunciation inside the Kremlin, Moscow

Three Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft are seen flying above the spires of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow, while taking part in rehearsals for a May 9 aerial display

Three Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft are seen flying above the spires of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow, while taking part in rehearsals for a May 9 aerial display

Three Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft are seen flying above the spires of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow, while taking part in rehearsals for a May 9 aerial display

Su-25 bombers trail the colours of the Russian flag as the pass over the Kremlin Wall in Moscow during Victory Day parade rehearsals ahead of the main event, which will take place on May 9

Su-25 bombers trail the colours of the Russian flag as the pass over the Kremlin Wall in Moscow during Victory Day parade rehearsals ahead of the main event, which will take place on May 9

Su-25 bombers trail the colours of the Russian flag as the pass over the Kremlin Wall in Moscow during Victory Day parade rehearsals ahead of the main event, which will take place on May 9

A Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber - which is capable of carrying nukes - flies in formation alongside Su-35S fighters during Victory Day parade rehearsals in Moscow today

A Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber - which is capable of carrying nukes - flies in formation alongside Su-35S fighters during Victory Day parade rehearsals in Moscow today

A Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber – which is capable of carrying nukes – flies in formation alongside Su-35S fighters during Victory Day parade rehearsals in Moscow today

Russia has long-marked the day Hitler’s Germany surrendered with solemn events, but in recent years Putin has turned the day into a tub-thumping shows of nationalistic pride designed to project an image of strength to Russians, their allies and their enemies alike.

But as the war in Ukraine has faltered that mask has started to slip, leading some observers to predict that Putin may resort to a provocation to achieve a semblance of victory – such as declaring the city of Kherson to be independent – or to ramp up his rhetoric by openly declaring war.

Though Russia’s attack on Ukraine is widely viewed as a war, Putin has described it as a ‘special military operation’ to his own people. Officially declaring war would allow the Kremlin to take measures such as a general mobilisation of the population into the armed forces, which would be difficult to justify for a ‘special operation’.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s official spokesman, denied any such plans today – saying there is ‘no chance’ of it happening. But that will do little to quell fears, as Peskov also routinely predicted there would be no war in Ukraine right before Putin ordered his troops in.

The May 9 Victory Day is one of Russia’s most important national events – a remembrance of the enormous Soviet sacrifice made in defeating Nazi Germany in what is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War.

An estimated 27 million Soviet citizens were killed in the 1941-45 war which left the Soviet Union devastated and almost every Soviet family mourning.

Putin has used previous Victory Day speeches to needle the West and showcase the firepower of Russia’s post-Soviet armed forces.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced millions more and raised fears of the most serious confrontation between Russia and the United States since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Moscow had to defend against the persecution of Russian-speaking people.

He casts the conflict as an inevitable confrontation with the United States, which he accuses of threatening Russia by meddling in its backyard and enlarging the NATO military alliance.

Ukraine says it is fighting an imperial-style land grab and that Putin’s claims of genocide are nonsense.

Source: DailyMail

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