Why Everyone Is Talking About May 9 In Russia

There is a specific date this year that many people have been keeping an eye on, as it may carry some major significance moving forward. The date in question is May 9, and in Russia it's known as Victory Day. It's a major holiday that commemorates the Allies' defeat of the Nazis and those who lost their lives during World War II. According to BBC News, that number is as high as 27 million, the greatest loss of life that any country suffered during the war.

An occasional feature of the Victory Day celebrations during the Soviet era was a parade that showcased the country's military by moving vehicles and weaponry through Moscow's Red Square. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the parade was held sporadically, until Russian President Vladimir Putin made it an annual event in 2008. The concern in 2022 is that the Kremlin may use the occasion to officially declare war on Ukraine, which to this point the Russian government has considered a "special military operation," per Reuters.

What are Victory Day celebrations normally like?

Victory Day is a big deal in Russia, and ceremonies and parades are held all across the country. According to The New York Times, most of the celebrations involve parades in hundreds of cities, and those are typically followed by a march where civilians carry photos of their relatives who were some of the 27 million Soviets killed during the war. It's estimated that millions of people could take part in the Victory Day celebrations. In previous years, representatives from other countries — including the United States — used to travel to Russia for Victory Day, though that has become less common in recent years.

Lately, however, the holiday has grown, and much of that growth is attributed to Vladimir Putin, who has turned it into one of the biggest, if not the biggest, holidays on the Russian national calendar. In previous years, Putin has hinted that the time may come when Russia will need to mobilize for war once again. Given the situation in Ukraine, many are concerned that an announcement could come on May 9.

The Kremlin has denied the rumor

Growing concern over the threat of a declaration of war on May 9 prompted a response from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who denied that such an announcement was imminent. "There is no chance of that. It's nonsense," he said, per Reuters. However, words like that coming from Peskov — who is known to be very close to Putin and typically functions as the administration's mouthpiece — have done little to put minds at ease.

According to Ernest Wyciszkiewicz of the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding, Russia had intended to celebrate a victory in Ukraine, but since that hasn't been panning out, the Putin administration needed to call an audible. "They are preparing a PR stunt for Monday: it's important for Russians to see that the special military operation they have been hearing about has led to something tangible," Wyciszkiewicz told BBC News. It's thought that the administration will now focus on their military's occupation of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

If Putin were to declare war, experts believe that this could require Russia to hold a draft, per The New York Times. In addition, they could place restrictions on military-aged men from leaving the country. It has also been noted that Putin's repeated habit of referring to Ukraine's government as "pro-Nazi" could be an attempt to leverage the Victory Day patriotism — seeing as the holiday celebrates the defeat of the Nazis — to justify and gain support for the war in Ukraine.