Ukraine recap: Putin celebrates Victory Day with nuclear threats to UK and France

Vladimir Putin, newly elected as Russian president for a fifth term (and being hailed, apparently, by some ultra-nationalist supporters as “imperator” like the tsars before him) has been leading his country’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.

As we’ve come to expect, there’s been the usual mix of pomp, nostalgia and military hardware.


This article is the opinion of the author (Jonathan Este, The Conversation) and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal. If you would like to submit your own article on this topic or any other, please see our submission guidelines.


It has been said in May each year since Putin sent his war machine across the Ukrainian border in February 2022 that the imperator would want to have a significant battlefield triumph to announce as the country commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over fascism in the second world war. So far this has proved elusive, thanks to Ukraine’s stubborn defence and the billions of dollars worth of military aid contributed by Kyiv’s western allies.

This time around, largely due to Kyiv’s lack of the latter, Putin has some territorial gains to crow about. Russian forces are pressing Ukrainian defences hard in the east and south of the country, especially in the Donetsk Oblast, where the frontline is creeping, albeit very slowly, towards the strategically important town of Chasiv Yar. Further north, Russian units are edging westwards with the aim of occupying the whole of Luhansk Oblast and moving westwards into eastern Kharkiv Oblast.

Vladimir Putin attends the 2024 Victory Day parade in Moscow.

But this battlefield progress has reportedly come at a high cost. The UK’s ministry of defence released an intelligence update this week estimating Russian losses through April at 899 soldiers per day killed or wounded, with a total casualty count of more than 465,000 since the conflict began two years ago.


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It remains unclear, writes Stefan Wolff of the University of Birmingham, the extent to which the US$60 billion (£50 billion) of US military aid is changing this dynamic. Wolff, an expert in international security who has been a regular contributor to our coverage of the war since it started, says that despite the US having positioned key supplies close enough to Ukraine’s troops to be delivered in some cases within a few hours, there is little sign yet that they are helping the defenders slow the rate of advance.

That said, the rate of advance is already so slow that Chasiv Yar, which appears to be Russia’s next main strategic objective, is just 10kms west of Bakhmut. You may remember that Russia occupied that city a year ago after a monumental struggle.

ISW map showing the state of the conflict in Ukraine.
The state of the conflict in Ukraine as at May 7. Institute for the Study of War.

Wolff also notes two significant recent diplomatic events. French president Emmanuel Macron has renewed his calls for Kyiv’s European allies to commit to putting boots on the ground in Ukraine should the need arise, in order to prevent Russia winning the war. He first made the call in February, but so far only Lithuania has heeded his message, saying it was prepared to commit troops to Ukraine, initially for training purposes.

More significantly, though, the UK’s foreign minister, David Cameron, has withdrawn the prohibition against Ukraine using British weapons to strike targets in Russia. That this is a consequential move for the UK, which can hurt Russia, was immediately apparent in the vehemence of Putin’s response, which was to threaten to hit back against British military installations and equipment both inside Ukraine and elsewhere.

Amelia Hadfield, head of politics at the University of Surrey, takes a closer look at the revitalised “entente cordiale” between Britain and France over the past two years, notwithstanding any difficulties brought on by Brexit. She highlights a letter published in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper by Cameron and his French counterpart, Stéphane Séjourné, minister for Europe and foreign affairs, declaring that “two founding members [of Nato] and Europe’s nuclear powers, have a responsibility in driving the alliance to deal with the challenges before it”.

The key, writes Hadfield, is for the UK and France to “capitalise on their leadership to coordinate the war effort in terms of defence and diplomacy by keeping allies in the fight, now and in the medium term”. This level of European buy-in to Nato’s goals and responsibilities will also go down well in the US, where successive administrations have had concerns that America has been footing more than its fair share of the bill for too long.

This last issue, together with the possibility that Donald Trump might be elected for a second term as US president, has prompted Nato’s European members to shift up a gear. Trump said in February that he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” with any Nato country that didn’t abide by the alliance’s defence spending guidelines. Jest or not, many European countries are taking the Republican presidential candidate at face value.

Alarmed by Putin’s repeated threats to use nuclear weapons (the latest made just the other day, prompted by France and Britain’s latest statements about the war) Nato countries are doing what Natasha Lindstaedt calls “Trump-proofing” themselves.

Lindstaedt, a politics professor at the University of Essex, tracks the way in which Poland and the Baltic States, in particular, have been beefing up their defence arrangements. Poland has said it is happy to host nuclear weapons on its soil and Macron has said he wants to “europeanise” France’s nuclear deterrent as part of the EU’s collective defence.

A key consideration, writes Lindstaedt, is the risk that talking up the importance of a nuclear deterrent increases the possibility that a threatened Russia with its back to the wall may resort to its use.

Meanwhile in Russia

If Victory Day is a chance for Putin to bask in the reflected glory of the achievements of the mighty Red Army in the Great Patriotic War (1939-45) it’s also a premium opportunity to indoctrinate a new generation of patriotic Russians.

Jennifer Mathers, a senior lecturer in international politics at Aberystwyth University, and Allyson Edwards, a lecturer in international politics at Bath Spa University, who specialises in Russian militarism, write here about how, under Putin, Russia is mobilising its youth to create a new generation of militarily indoctrinated patriots.

Meanwhile, as is normal following an election, Putin’s council of ministers resigned en masse and have a week to reapply for their jobs. Or not. Russia-watchers are keenly anticipating personnel changes after a turbulent year at the top of Russian politics.

Russia’s defence establishment was rocked recently when Russia’s deputy defence minister, Timur Ivanov, was arrested and charged with massive corruption, in part over his stewardship of the rebuilding of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. There’s no doubt that the man they call the “King of the Kickback” was known for his lavish lifestyle. But, as Stephen Hall – an expert in authoritarian regimes at the University of Bath – notes, corruption at the elite level is not seen as unusual in Russia, where the top dogs (including Putin himself) all have what are known as “wallets” who act as the bagmen for their ill-gotten gains.

More likely is that Ivanov is the victim of infighting between the ministry of defence and Russia’s powerful intelligence community. Hall walks us through some of the more ambitious Kremlin courtiers jostling around Putin and his defence minister Sergei Shoigu, who will doubtless be watching his own back very carefully in the months to come.

Map readings

Each fortnight we reproduce a map here, courtesy of the Institute for the Study of War, that shows the state of the conflict in Ukraine. The ISW publishes a number of maps each day, updating in great detail what can be gleaned from geolocated data about the progress of the battlefield and any confirmed movements in the lines of contact.

Doug Specht, a reader in cultural geography and communications at the University of Westminster, has made a specialism of maps and what they can tell us, not just about the shape of the world, but about the culture that produced the maps themselves. Here, Specht highlights the way that maps can dehumanise situations, as they have in Ukraine and Gaza.

“Ultimately, maps are tools that can be used for good or ill,” he concludes. “We must strive to see beyond the lines and symbols, and remember the human beings whose lives are impacted by the conflicts depicted on maps.”

Ukraine Recap is available as a fortnightly email newsletter. Click here to get the recaps directly in your inbox.The Conversation

Jonathan Este, Senior International Affairs Editor, Associate Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Marked
Marked (@guest_823510)
1 month ago

Blah blah we’ve heard it all before from the twisted dwarf.

GlynH
GlynH (@guest_823592)
1 month ago
Reply to  Marked

I was gonna go with angry lil hobbit 🙂

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_824171)
1 month ago
Reply to  GlynH

Hobbits are happy and friendly by nature, according to J.R.R. 🤔

andyreeves9@msn.com
[email protected] (@guest_823616)
1 month ago
Reply to  Marked

W🏆R

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_824173)
1 month ago
Reply to  Marked

Actually, was thinking more along the lines of Gollum. The dwarves of ME have a favorable rep.

GlynH
GlynH (@guest_824308)
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

ow about those troll thingy things from Willow; with the medieval armour etc. What about same those from labyrinth but the late great David wouldn’t spend time with Poo Tin.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_823521)
1 month ago

For me, these threats are for his own domestic audience.
As ex KGB he knows full well what MAD is and what it entails for him and his country too.
Which is why Trident is our No1 defence priority.

Micki
Micki (@guest_823606)
1 month ago

The British nuclear arsenal is much inferior to the Russian one; in the event of a nuclear war, before the Trident reaches Russia, the United Kingdom would be destroyed.
Let’s be realistic and not fanatics.
The best thing is that there are negotiations and stop this genocidal war, Europe needs peace.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_823609)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

As I said, MAD.
Yes, of course we would be, our landmass is small.
Me pointing out that European Russia and the area around Moscow would also be a smoking wasteland isn’t being a fanatic, it’s just the realities of MAD.

Agree on negotiations.

Michael Hannah
Michael Hannah (@guest_824409)
1 month ago

Negotiations AFTER RUSSIA WITHDRAWS to behind international recognised borders and only to pay reperations, not territory.

andyreeves9@msn.com
[email protected] (@guest_823618)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

be realistic? the russians operate utter trash. like everything they’ve fired in Ukraine, a lot of what they have will drop into the north sea

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_823723)
1 month ago

Their Balistic missiles work Andy, they may not be as accurate as western ballistic missiles, but nuclear tipped ballistic missiles don’t need a brilliant CEP..especially for counter value…

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_823665)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

To be honest, how big the UK deterrent is compared to Russians is essentially irrelevant…any of the major nuclear powers launching a ballistic missile strike from an SSBN would trigger a full MAD response…simple put if the UK fired on Russia a number of things would occur. 1) Russia would have not a clue which nuclear power had launched the attack..could have been any NATO nuclear power. 2) One SSBN would functionally destroy any nation..Russia would not allow Itself to be be effectively destroyed in this way without doing the same to every major nato nation. 3) the U.S. would… Read more »

Mr Bell
Mr Bell (@guest_823775)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

The response time is in minutes, any ballistic missile strike against any NATO power would result in a counter strike and nuclear escalation which would continue escalation against escalation until a full exchange of all available weapons leaving the world a nuclear wasteland. This is the point of MAD- no one can use a nuclear weapon against another nuclear armed state without causing the end of the world. Now the problem is Putin and his henchmen are mad enough and psychotic enough to use their nuclear arsenal as a first strike capability. That is why the world has never been… Read more »

Mark B
Mark B (@guest_824577)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Putin is trying to re-build his country as a Russian superpower. He cannot do that if his country has been ripped apart by the Nuclear weapons of just one country. He knows that perfectly well. He might make statements to frighten the populations of western countries however he understands the realities. Destroying France or the UK achieves nothing. Putin has simply tried to take over a non-nato country before it decided to join NATO. He failed mainly because the UK (and then others) started to arm Ukraine prior to the invasion which ruined his entire plan. He is only continuing… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB (@guest_824863)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

To a degree I agree. There are two exceptions. The first being the Russian satellites designed to detect ICBM launches can tell what missile is being fired, by the exhaust plume’s IR signature. Secondly, if there is somebody left in Russia with the right equipment you can tell where the fissile material was manufactured. So for instance Russia could tell the difference between a Trident and a M51. Which would narrow it down between US/UK and France. Then by analyzing the left over fissile material they could then determine if it was the US or the U.K. who had launched.… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_824871)
1 month ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Hi Davey, it’s worth noting that Russia no longer has that capability, it’s only the U.S. has that with the DSP sats In regards to sat launch detection…Re fissile material that would take a while and as everyone will be launching counterforce strikes before their own forces get taken out it so it would be days late..and would simply not matter…Russia would not care which NATO nuclear power dumped a SSBN on them…they would attack all the NATO nuclear powers..infact they would probably do the same to china..as they would not want any power left if they were going down…MAD… Read more »

Gunbuster
Gunbuster (@guest_823692)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

Genocidal?
Describe it please using the UN definition…If you do the genocidal tag sits with ivan…

Inferior warhead count means jack when you have enough firepower to level every major Russian city in a retaliatory strike. Thats how MAD works
ivans 1700 odd Strategic class warheads are over the top anyway. You would be bouncing rubble with most of them anyway.

Europe is at peace. Ukr isn’t because of ivan.

Marked
Marked (@guest_823742)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

NATO. There’s the US and French arsenal’s as well. The Poo Tin is well aware that a nuclear strike on any nato member would result in Russia being annihilated. He craves power and status, not a nuclear wasteland.

Mr Bell
Mr Bell (@guest_823773)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

But that is the point of MAD- yes Russia could very well destroy the UK with its nuclear arsenal, but our retaliatory strike will also make Russia a nuclear wasteland too. So an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth. this is the reason for MAD- you would have to be made, which Putin is by the way, to instigate a nuclear war against another nuclear armed power. 16 trident missiles with 8 MIRVs of 150-250Kt yield is not to be sniffled at- that is a vast amount of destructive firepower per submarine to be raining down on… Read more »

Math
Math (@guest_823777)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

@micky
France is able to destroy Russia as it exists with 1 submarine. France has 4. UK has 4. So this whole number of nukes stuff makes no sense if Russia wants to destroy Europe or mankind, Russia will do it. So can we destroy Russia. There is no place for fear in this, just violence on overdrive mode.

Dern
Dern (@guest_824221)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

The UK has enough warheads to annihilate every city in Russia with a population of over 70,000. In that context I don’t think the inferiority of the UK arsenal is really relevant.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_824519)
1 month ago
Reply to  Micki

Actually, British nuclear capability might, at least theoretically, experience a massive increase in capability from the mid-2030’s. US Submarine (or Sea)-Based Cruise Missile-Nuclear (SLCM-N) program is slated to reach IOC in 2034. Evolution of a successor nuclear Tomahawk variant. Would presume UK will be offered weapon. Potentially, not only all SSNs, but all surface combatants w/ MK 41 will have a nuclear delivery capability. Will significantly complicate both Orc and ChiCom targeting exercises.

andyreeves9@msn.com
[email protected] (@guest_823617)
1 month ago

given the pathetic performance of Russian military equipment in the Ukraine war, I’d be surprised if anything they have, will actually reach it’s untended target

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_823623)
1 month ago

They have thousands.
It only takes a few, given the size of the UK.

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_823663)
1 month ago

I’m not sure it is entirely domestic, Russia has a very loss nuclear posture compared to the west…we know that that Russia knows we know that. The majority is domestic grandstanding..but I think there is also a large element of keeping the west on the back foot and worried…let’s be honest the reason the west has not put troops into Ukraine and or been slow to provide weapons that can strike Russia is we don’t want to escalate with a nuclear power..take the nuclear weapons out of the equation and NATO would have probably put an air umbrella over Ukraine… Read more »

Frank62
Frank62 (@guest_823681)
1 month ago

Without credible conventional forces it is our only option, used far too early quite unnessecarily.

Dern
Dern (@guest_824222)
1 month ago

Brilliant idea by Putin, threaten a nation that has a doctrine of “We will fire a Nuclear weapon at you as a warning shot.”

Vive la France. 🇫🇷

andyreeves9@msn.com
[email protected] (@guest_823615)
1 month ago

Putin is a fool

Micki
Micki (@guest_823653)
1 month ago

The solutión is to convince the dictator that he can,t Win and the sanctions must follow but políticians must try to negotiate, I think Putin wants to negotiate because he has seen the victory is far, so it,s the time for peace and finish the genocide.

OldSchool
OldSchool (@guest_823676)
1 month ago

Putin is a prat – so nuff said about his hopeless nuclear threats. I disagree about France in this article tho. It is the UK showing leadership on Ukraine. France has as usual made big claims about supporting Ukraine but they’re at complete variance to reality. France’s support has been miserly (check out the Kiel Institutes reports) and frankly disingeneous ( to put it politely) as it tries desperately to deflect attention on the subject ( aka Macron beating up NATO intervention in Ukraind proper – knowing there’s no chance of that and the hyped overvalution of Frencb military aid… Read more »

Tullzter
Tullzter (@guest_824088)
1 month ago
Reply to  OldSchool

information is simply not disclosed by the French military as opsec is different, vastly different than in the UK / US for instance

Frank62
Frank62 (@guest_823680)
1 month ago

Threatening a nuclear power/allience with nukes should be a non starter. Any sensible nuclear power simply responds with the obvious: Any nuclear attack will be met with overwhelming response likewise. Threat difused.
Cowering, panicking, appeasing, backing off in the face of aggression & caving in/forcing friends to fight with one arm tied behing its back while the illegal invader does whatever it wants & escalates at will is a deadly failure of leadership.

Merchantman
Merchantman (@guest_823686)
1 month ago

The Great Patriotic War was actually 1941-1945. The Russians don’t like to talk about what they were up to for the first couple years of the war.

Mr Bell
Mr Bell (@guest_823710)
1 month ago

So. In summary. We have a mad psychopath in charge of a nuclear armed state, that is unable to gain victory against the heroic defenders in Ukraine. So he threatens the Western allies with nuclear Armageddon. Meanwhile our beloved government’s response is to continue defence cuts and the downgrading of our military.
Seems very sensible to me.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking (@guest_823859)
1 month ago

As that Brit lady said when told about an election ‘What!? Another one?’

Perhaps we should give Putin’s threats a nomenclature like storms in the U.K. This one could be ‘Nancy …’

Zephyr
Zephyr (@guest_825003)
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Larking

Nancy? I like that! Also “PooTin” the Nasty Gollum.

David Owen
David Owen (@guest_823975)
1 month ago

Little stalin can shoot his mouth off ,mutual assured destruction ,call that murdered out tell him to launch his nukes and he will see what comes about when a high ranking general puts a bullet in his head ,he is living on a double edged blade and on borrowed time, HELLBOUND IS WHERE HIS GOING 👋 🤔

Michael Hannah
Michael Hannah (@guest_824407)
1 month ago

The little Russian who waved his nuclear willy around, his very unimpressive nuclear member.
If you want mutually assured destruction Mr Putin, go ahead but I suspect your minions would like to keep living.

Nick Cole
Nick Cole (@guest_824796)
1 month ago

His comments are aimed more at his domestic audience. Trying to pretend his country is more than a match for NATO is futile, which he knows full well. He struggles to take one front line country. Our problem is that he could do that to other countries one at a time as we are reluctant to engage directly. At which point do we say enough is enough and take steps to stop him? He is using nuclear forces as part of his strategic plan knowing that we would not confront him. He knows that we know that he can only… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Nick Cole