Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended Moscow's military operation in Ukraine, saying it was necessary as the West was preparing to invade Russia.
Putin made the remarks at the annual Victory Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square on Monday, marking the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
The Russian president said the West was "preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea," and the military operation was a preemptive move to ward off aggression.
“NATO countries did not want to listen to us. They had different plans, and we saw it,” Putin said. “They were planning an invasion into our historic lands, including Crimea … Russia gave a preemptive rebuff to aggression, it was a forced, timely, and only right decision.”
Putin further said the decision for this “special military operation” was forced on Moscow, calling it the “only correct decision” as Ukraine was receiving the most modern weaponry from the NATO military bloc.
"We heard how Kiev was talking about requiring nuclear weapons," he said. "We had to do this and it was the only right thing to do," Putin said of what he has repeatedly dubbed "special military operation".
He asserted that Russia was fighting for "its people in Donbas", saying Moscow "urged Europe to find a fair compromise, but they didn't want to hear us."
“You are fighting for your motherland, for its future, so no one will forget the lessons of the Second World War,” Putin told his troops at the impressive parade, before observing a minute of silence.
“The death of each of our soldiers and officers is a grief for all of us and an irreparable loss for relatives and friends,” Putin said.
“The state, regions, enterprises, and public organizations will do everything to take care of such families and help them. We will provide special support to the children of the dead and wounded comrades. The presidential decree on this was signed today.”
Around 11,000 soldiers participated in the parade on Moscow's Red Square. Military parades also took place in Vladivostok and Novosibirsk.
“Glory to our armed forces, hooray to Russia,” troops yelled as they cheered Putin during the parade, as the country's national anthem played in the background and cannons were fired in celebration.
Since 2008, Victory Day events in Russia have been used to honor the sacrifices of a previous generation, and to portray an image of post-Communist Russia restored to its former glory.
In 2008, under Putin, mechanized units took part in the Victory Day parade for the first time since 1991, and the ceremony also saw a fly-past of fighting planes for the first time in any parade on Red Square since 1957, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
The parade was broadcast live to a worldwide audience, through Russia's RT channel.
Asked on Friday whether the parade would be overshadowed by the conflict, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called it a “sacred day” for all Russians.
"Victory Day for all Russian citizens, for all Russians, for almost all residents of the former territory of the Soviet Union, is a sacred day ... filled with a sense of pain for the sacrifices that we have suffered, and a sense of pride for our country and for our victory. And nothing will overshadow it,” he said.
"From the point of view of national pride, the significance of this holiday cannot be overestimated.”
The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people in World War II, more than any other country.
Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Putin said one of the goals of the military operation was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.