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May 9 Might Escalate Russia's War On Ukraine

By Veronika Bondarenko

Wars are, as a matter of course, easier to start than they are to finish. 

Nearly three months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe is just coming into view while the end is far from sight.

As of May 6, more than 3,150 civilians were killed, countless buildings have been shelled

Nearly 5.8 million Ukrainians, or around 14% of the country's population, have become refugees after fleeing to neighboring countries.

Despite multiple rounds of sweeping global sanctions and an exodus of almost every major global company from Apple  (AAPL Get Apple Inc. Report to McDonald's  (MCD Get McDonald's Corporation Report, Russia continues to shell cities across Ukraine in the poorly-articulated goals of Ukraine's "denazification" and "demilitarization." 

Russia, in turn, lost between 7,000 and 15,000 soldiers as well as hundreds of tanks and other military armor.

What Is May 9 For Russia?

With so much of this war hinging heavily on President Vladimir Putin's mercurial moves, even the best political analysts are struggling to foretell what will end the war.

It may even serve as a pivotal moment that can turn around its course.

But with May 9 coming up, even those who by now have started to tune out the crisis are watching Russia's moves closely. 

The date, which celebrates when the Soviet Union declared its victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, has since become known as "Victory Day" in Russia and numerous post-Soviet states.

Vlad Karkov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The celebration initially began as a way to decry fascism and commemorate the 27 million lives the country lost during World War II, known as the "Great Patriotic War" in Russia. 

But the last two decades have seen it become increasingly appropriated by Russian government officials as a way of showing off military might and stirring up nationalistic zeal among the population.

Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, Victory Day typically included a major military parade in Moscow's Red Square, government speeches on top of Vladimir Lenin's tomb and countless other smaller pro-army celebrations across the country.

While past events were once attended by both American and European officials, Russia's increasing militarization has isolated the country from the rest of the world. 

Turning May 9 into little more than a nationalistic display of authoritarianism in most people's eyes will now have new significance this year.

Little To Celebrate This Year

While Putin has repeatedly likened the invasion of Ukraine to a battle against metaphorical Nazis, unprovoked attack has generated global outrage and immense financial support for the Ukrainian resistance.

The U.S. alone has already provided more than $4 billion in weapons and other military aid to the country.

As a result, Russia has failed to make any major headway despite inflicting untold damage and shelling countless cities. Cities controlled by Russian forces, such as Kherson and Mariupol, have been besieged for months with residents held as hostages.

Contributor/Getty

Many now fear that May 9, or Victory Day, will be used for any of a number of bad things.

It could be hijacked for claiming a "victory" and declaring certain parts of Ukraine to now be a part of Russia; ramping up war efforts; or ordering the mass mobilization of Russia's army and citizens.

Predictions alone have their limits — prior to Feb. 24, many international experts argued that Russia wouldn't dare to orchestrate a full-on war.

But given the significance of the holiday and Russia's lack of victories so far, millions are now living in fear of Putin weaponizing the holiday to escalate what is now the biggest war in Europe since World War II.

"Given how important Victory Day has been to Putin and Putinism, it's hard to imagine that his government won't try to use it for some purpose," Stephen Norris, professor of Russian history at the University of Miami, told Al Jazeera. 

"It's hard to see any sort of victory being declared. Instead, my fear is that Putin will use the holiday to announce a new offensive and new phase of the war."

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Dive Deeper:
Russia may declare war on Ukraine on May 9 – and use it as a reason to double down on attacks
The Russian government has consistently called its war on Ukraine a “special military operation.”
Russia: What is Victory Day, and why is it important this May 9?
Russia will celebrate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany as its new war on Ukraine rages.
Vladimir Putin's Victory Day speech could offer clues on the future of Russia's disastrous war in Ukraine
One of the most important days on the Russian calendar is just around the corner, and all eyes are on…
Factbox-Russia's May 9 Victory Day celebrations
President Vladimir Putin will lead celebrations on May 9 marking the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Ukraine braces for escalated attacks ahead of Russia’s V-Day
Ukrainian troops have solidified their positions around the nation’s second-largest city of Kharkiv as Russian forces delivered more punishing attacks…
Ukraine-Russia war: G-7 leaders to discuss more Russia sanctions. 10 points
Ukraine-Russia war: Fighting continues on many fronts, and Ukraine's defence ministry said it had destroyed another Russian vessel -- a…
Get all your news in one place