He made no claim of victory or “mission accomplished” and no promise that the fight in Ukraine could end soon. But as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke in Moscow’s Red Square on Monday, he also made no call for new sacrifice or mobilization, no threat of a nuclear strike, no stark pronouncement about an existential war with the West.
Instead Mr. Putin, speaking on Russia’s most important secular holiday, delivered a message for the broader Russian public: that they could keep on living their lives. The military would keep fighting to rid Ukraine, in his false telling, of “torturers, death squads and Nazis,” but Mr. Putin did not make any new attempt to prepare his people for a wider conflict.
The calibrated tone showed that while some Western officials had predicted Mr. Putin would use the May 9 holiday
to double down on the war, he remains cautious about demanding too much from regular Russians. The only policy announcement Mr. Putin made in his speech, in fact, was aimed at assuaging the pain directly caused by the war — a decree to provide additional aid to the children of killed and wounded soldiers.
“He has developed a certain sense of what is and is not possible,” said Gleb O. Pavlovsky, a close adviser to Mr. Putin until falling out with him in 2011, explaining why the Russian leader does not appear ready to order a mass mobilization. “He understands that no propaganda can by itself force someone to die.”
“On the day of victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory,” Mr. Zelensky said as he was shown walking alone through the streets of Kyiv, past government buildings protected with barriers and barbed wire.
Together, the speeches showed both leaders digging in for what could be a protracted battle, as Ukrainian troops, armed with heavy weapons supplied by the West, fight Russian forces along a 300-mile front in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. After weeks of intense combat, Russia has made only sporadic gains.
The Ukrainian military said that the Russian army had deployed 19 battalion tactical groups — each with as many as 1,000 troops — to the Russian border town of Belgorod in preparation for an assault to slow a Ukrainian counteroffensive around Kharkiv and to break through Ukrainian defensive lines elsewhere in the region.
In Warsaw, protesters chanting “fascists” splashed red liquid on the face of Russia’s ambassador to Poland, Sergei Andreev, as he and other Russian diplomats visited a memorial honoring Red Army soldiers killed in World War II. A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria V. Zakharova, called the protesters “admirers of neo-Nazism.’’
Western and Ukrainian officials had speculated that Mr. Putin might use the martial pomp of the May 9 ceremony to officially declare Russia is in a state of war and expand military conscription, allowing him to increase his depleted forces that have faced so many struggles on the battlefield.
But analysts said that a mass mobilization of the Russian public, an increase in conscription or a switch to an austere wartime economy would undermine the balance he had struck and bring the reality of war into many more households. Mr. Putin pledged early on that conscripts — young Russian men who are required to complete a year of military service — would not be sent into battle. After many were, Mr. Putin
ordered an investigation.
“It could turn out that people are prepared to support the war while sitting at home in front of the TV, as they say, but that they are not at all prepared to go and fight,” Mr. Pavlovsky said. “That’s the central position that Putin understands and is trying not to touch.”
The choreography of the parade itself seemed aimed at the comfortably familiar: troops and vehicles marched and rolled through Red Square as they had in previous years and did not show the “Z” symbol that has come to represent support for the Ukraine war.
Even during Monday’s celebrations, glimmers of unrest inside Russia continued to show. OVD-Info, a rights group, reported detentions
of scattered protesters across the country. It distributed a photo of a man who was later arrested for having placed a box of chocolates on a central Moscow bench beside a handwritten sign that read: “Have some candy if you’re against the war.”
In the most dramatic act of protest, two Russian journalists at Lentu.ru, a pro-Kremlin news website, suddenly filled its home page with antiwar articles, including one that declared “Putin must go.”
“Do not fear!” the article, posted briefly on the website, stated. “Do not be silent! Resist! You are not alone, and we are many! The future is ours!” In his speech, Mr. Putin rehashed old arguments — that the invasion was the “only correct decision” because, he falsely claimed, Ukraine was planning a “punitive invasion” of its Russian-controlled territory, and because NATO was building up troops near Russia’s borders.
But some analysts warned that even if Mr. Putin defied some Western expectations of escalation, the threat remained high in the coming weeks. Tatiana Stanovaya, who has long studied Mr. Putin and founded the France-based political analysis firm R. Politik, said the Russian president likely had seen the Victory Day parade as the wrong time and place to signal an escalation — especially because many Russians were still enjoying the country’s traditional holiday period of early May.
She said the greatest danger lay in Mr. Putin’s frustration at the West’s arms deliveries to Ukraine, and that he might use Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal to deter it, by detonating a single weapon
to demonstrative effect. In Mr. Putin’s narrative, the West is goading Ukraine into resistance in order to weaken Russia; late last month, Mr. Putin warned countries that “create a strategic threat to Russia” could expect “retaliatory strikes” that would be “lightning fast.”
“In his understanding, the problems that Russia is facing in Ukraine right now stem not from a lack of forces but from the West arming Ukraine,” Ms. Stanovaya said. “He’s at war with the West, so he has to show the West that it must retreat. And he has to show it in a way that really scares everyone.”
Mr. Putin reserved his toughest language in Monday’s speech for the United States. It was the United States and its “minions” that were using Ukrainian “neo-Nazis” to threaten Russia, he said, forcing him to respond militarily. And it was the United States, he said, that was “humiliating” the world after the fall of the Soviet Union by proclaiming its “exceptionalism.”
“Without a Western retreat, there’s no way Putin is going to win the war now,” Ms. Stanovaya said.