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Russia Commemorates Victory Day; Vladimir Putin Thanked Their Soldiers; Russia Assumed the West Had a Plan; Russia Commemorates Victory Day with Military Parade; Russian President Vladimir Putin Gives Major Speech on Victory Day; G7 Leaders, President Biden, and President Zelenskyy Hold Virtual Meeting; Russian PM Visits Mariupol Ahead of Victory Day; Ukrainian Soldiers in Azovstal Plant Vow to Keep Fighting; Mariupol Evacuees Arrive in Zaporizhzhia. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 03:00   ET




ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world. I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from in Lviv, Ukraine.

It is Monday, May 9th, victory day in Russia. I want to show you these live pictures coming from Moscow's Red Square where events are getting underway there at 10 o'clock in the morning. We are expecting to hear from Russian President Vladimir Putin in a few minutes. Of course, as soon as that happens, we shall bring that to you. The annual holiday, of course, commemorates the Soviet victory of the Nazi Germany during World War II. It's also, really, a memorial to those killed during the war.

In all, the Soviet Union lost 27 million people, more than any other nation. But under Putin's leadership, Victory Day has taken on a new edge, serving as a showcase, as we've seen, year after year, of Russia's military power. Russia's military might.

As we look at these live pictures from Red Square, I want to bring in Max Seddon there, the parade taking place right now, Max Seddon is the bureau chief for the Financial Times and he joins me now live from Latvia.

Max, as you and I talk we are looking at the parade in Red Square in Moscow. Clearly, as we have seen time and time again, you know, really images of Russia's military might and military power. You've covered these many times I believe. Give me a sense of what the meaning of this for the audience at home, but also abroad here.

MAX SEDDON, MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF, THE FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, this is really part of this called of the Soviet victory in World War II that Putin sees as really the ideological cornerstone of the modern Russian state that he's built. He's elevated the Soviet victory in World War II, which is obviously a very traumatic event, as you said given how many people died to the level of this kind of --


SEDDON: -- national religion, it's really only under Putin that we've seen the parade perform with the really enormous pomp that we're seeing right now. Even from Russia the Soviet era they didn't do this to quite the extent with all of the missiles constantly every year parading down Tverskaya, the ministry in Moscow.

And so this is a message both to the Russian people that they are strong, victorious power and there's a slogan that you hear a lot in Russia, you know, we can do it again. This is also a message to the west that if, as Putin said repeatedly in the last few months if you try to interfere with Russia's plans in Ukraine, now the consequences could be terrible.

SOARES: And I just want to listen into this parade. Let's have a quick listen. And, Max, of course, you know this commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II as we look at the live images from Red Square. But the irony is that it is not lost on anyone here in Ukraine. What do you think we are -- we should be expecting to hear, what we could possibly hear from President Putin today?

SEDDON: Well, one thing that a lot of, people including officials in Ukraine were expecting recently as a few weeks ago was that Russia will try to hurry up and finish the invasion of Ukraine in some sort of form so that they could declare victory by today. And that would mean capturing the Donbas region in the east, that would be taking more land in southeastern Ukraine, particularly Odessa and another territory around Crimea.

And right now, it doesn't even look like they've even done that. They still haven't captured the Donbas. There is large flights of territory including Odessa, the major city in the south that still remains in Ukrainian hands.


And so, there are increasing fears that Putin could use this to declare some sort of broader mobilization. We've seen on Russian state television and talk shows that run basically around the clock, that this really frothy warmongering atmosphere on state TV saying that, actually, the reason that we didn't win in three days like we thought we were going to is because we are not fighting against Ukraine.

This is really World War III against the west. This just happens to be the Ukrainians have been sent to be used as cannon fodder -- as cannon fodder against Russian. And so the fear is that Putin could use this to announce some sort of broader mobilization and call up more reserve. Because things then if you talk to military experts -- they can't keep up the finding on the ground in this manner for that much longer.

SOARES: And you know, as we look at these pictures coming to us live from Red Square in Moscow, Max, I'm almost thinking how much this is an exercise, a P.R. exercise for soldiers really, for Russian troops who have suffered from, as we've reported, from low morale.

SEDDON: Well, absolutely, there are supposedly troops from the invasion actually taking part in this parade and some of the other parades around the country at the moment. But I think, also, this is not just for their consumption but really for the whole country's consumption.

Because what we've seen under Putin, and it's really particularly stressed today, this is much less the holiday about remembrance which is, you know, Ukraine where you are they are after the annexation Crimea, they move the date, they changed the symbols. It became much more a grievance remembrance holiday.

This is become really divorced from that in Russia, there's this wonderful Russian word, (Inaudible), which you could translate as victory derangement syndrome, which this really captures this kind of patriotic overdrive that this holiday is used to send Russians into.

And when you see the nuclear missiles proudly driving down the street there is only really one message that you could get from that.

SOARES: And, Max, I mean, we have seen time and time again in the last few weeks really the west and western -- the west and its allies getting together and sanctioning Russia in various ways. Has that had a dent at all on the Russian economy? Because looking at these pictures, this is an image that Putin obviously wants to show the world of strength, of military might. Very different from of course what we've been hearing in terms of the sanctions whether they're having a bite in the country economically.

SEDDON: Well, it's actually, you know, they obviously are having a bite. You believe or hear what Putin says he doesn't seem to think that that's the case. And he said, repeatedly, well the Soviet Union was isolated from the international economy and they did fine. So that seems to be the vision that he has.

The problem is, and this is something that a lot of the economists around them and the administration know very well, there is some very competent people on the economic side working there is that in today's globalized interconnected world it's much harder to survive. Even though there's been this big drive for imports substitution it is still a real struggle to build everything completely here so because Russia hasn't produced microchips.

Russia has its own plane, the Sukhoi Superjet that can't run without these engines that are joint produced with France. And so, they can't even build anymore of their own planes at the moment. They can't import servers which are, you know, important for keeping everything from mobile internet to industrial machinery running.

So it may be that we don't see the full impact which there is some estimates it could be more than 10 percent, maybe 50 percent lost to GDP this year. But a lot of people in the business sector in Moscow who, you know, do know how bad this is still going to be, in other words, the worst is yet to come there. You know, the ones that I speak to they're very much hoping that this

ends too and some of the sanctions throw back. Because they don't think Russia can go like this forever which Putin though, he does seem to think.

SOARES: Yes, Max Seddon, thank you very much for taking your time to join us, very important perspective there.

I want to -- Michael Bociurkiw, who was with me in the last hour joins me now. And Michael, let me just listen in for just one second.


Michael Bociurkiw joins me now. And Michael, of course this military parade just for our audience to get a sense. This happens every year, Victory Day, it's been happening for years since I've been -- I've been at CNN and I've been covering this. But this has new added significance this year, isn't? It

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE: Sure, and the fact that those nuclear weapons are being paraded so brazenly is really chilling because President Putin has threatened to use them, his nuclear saber rattling. And it's something, to this very day does seem to chill down the spine of western leaders. That's why a big reason why you don't have troops here on the ground.

But, you know, the other thing the other kind of soft weapon the west has been using, of course are the sanctions that Max referred to.


BOCIURKIW: And you know I think those will take a long time to really take a heavy impact. In fact, the economists have been describing those sanctions as a flesh wound and that the Russian economy is actually bouncing back. Of course, there's been problems like inflation, and firms having problems about paying wages. But on the most part, I don't think they've been as effective as western leaders at all.

SOARES: I mean, the rubble this morning apparently was doing quite well. I think also the economy that Russia --


BOCIURKIW: (Inaudible) levels, yes.

SOARES: They are propping it up --


SOARES: -- which I think says a lot. But these images here, as Ukraine looks at these images, no doubt it sent chills down the spine of many here. What is the mood? What is the sense from your vantage point in Ukraine right now? BOCIURKIW: Sure. Well, the sense is a lot more exciting. In fact, I

know a lot of people, locals and foreigners alike have left big cities like Vyborg (Ph) -- they tried to take over the border to smaller cities in fear of more missile strikes. And, again I think that as long as Mr. Putin has the ability to send those long-range weapons, there is still quite a bit stark, they are a bit expensive. But they do have them the fears here will remain quite high.

I think, though, the Ukrainians are very proud from what I'm hearing in Mr. Zelenskyy's speech yesterday was very powerful, --


BOCIURKIW: -- very kind of symbolic, but lots of color in. You know, basically, calling it a black or a dark spring. And we know he was saying, we know what it's like to live under war here in Ukraine. Please stop the war, please give us what we're asking for. So hopefully, you know, with all the western leaders coming here those kinds of messages --


SOARES: Must of course, yes.

BOCIURKIW: -- will resonate further.

SOARES: And we saw on that show a solidarity actually in that G7, --


SOARES: -- that virtual G7 yesterday, and I think that the timing of that was incredibly important especially given what is happening today. All eyes of course not just on the parade and the image that conveys but also critically what Putin could say here. For weeks we've been talking about the west, and analysts and experts saying that he would officially declare war on Ukraine. What is -- what do you think we're likely to hear from President Putin today?

BOCIURKIW: More of the ridiculous rhetoric, the de-Nazification of Ukraine. Maybe he'll stop using the word special military operation --

SOARES: You think?

BOCIURKIW: -- and call it what it is, of war, which would, in theory, enable him to do a further wider mobilization. But that mobilization will probably include still men and women from the poor regions of Russia. There's a lot of reports on social media of equipment campaigns happening with a lot of money being offered.

But a recent analysis of Russians killed in action here in Ukraine indicated that most of those troops come from those outlined poor areas rather than from Moscow itself.

SOARES: So, by declaring a war, you're saying that he may be able to conscript, mobilize his troops and really more further propaganda for those at home? But, you know, one expert I was speaking to just yesterday in Moscow, she was saying this is very much the message that everyone has been hearing in Moscow, in Russia, this propaganda, this rhetoric, calling it a war does not change anything.

BOCIURKIW: The Russian playbook when it comes to conquering is to conquer with artillery, those long-range weapons and with carpet bombing. And then you move in your troops to occupy. But that presents another problem is, so you're going to occupy cities like Kherson or Mariupol where resistance is very, very high. So, my fear is that they are looking at almost cleaning out the cities, not only of people but culturally through other methods.

SOARES: And actually, on that point, we have seen some of this russification --


SOARES: -- in the city such as Kherson. Of course, Mariupol not taken. But this is some, Kherson, in particular, they are trying to do an independence reference in there. They're planting flags on top of hospitals, statues. But Ukrainians have been speaking out and they've been standing their ground, particularly in Kherson.

BOCIURKIW: Yes, they have and it's a very chilling for me to see. Because I saw this happening in real-time in the Donbas when I was with the OSCE and the Russians took over. That's the first thing they do. They knock Ukrainian media off the air.


BOCIURKIW: They take over libraries and culture institutions.

SOARES: I'm just going to wrap you there because we, if you are just joining, let me bring you up to date. We are looking at live images from Moscow with 14 minutes past in the morning.


It's Victory Day in Moscow, it's the military parade and Victory Day is the defeat of Nazi Germany during the Second World War but of course this year comes under the shadow. Let's listen in.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): They are veterans and comrade soldiers, our sailors, soldiers, and noncommissioned officers -- officers, generals and admirals. I congratulate you on the great Victory Day.

The defense of the motherland when its fate was decided have always been sacred, these feelings of true patriotism lead the serviceman of Minin and Pozharsky on the battlefield near Mount Moscow and Lenin ground battling the enemy near Kyiv, Minsk, Stalingrad, Kursk, Kharkov, and Sevastopol, and today in these days, you are fighting for our people in Donbas for the security of our motherland, Russia.

The 9th of May, 1945 has forever been written into world history as the triumph of our united Soviet its unity, and its spiritual power it's exemplary, conduct on the battlefield and in the (Inaudible). This is so dear to all our citizens, there isn't a family that hasn't been burned in Russia by the great patriotic war, and this memory lives forever.

Today, the endless column of the immortal regiment of the grandchildren and children of those who have remained forever young, and the veterans who have left us, we are proud of the undefeated spirit of the victors, and the fact that we are their heirs, and it is our duty to preserve the memory of those who defeated Nazism, who (Inaudible) to us to be the watchful, and to make sure that the global war is not repeated again.

And despite all the differences in international relations Russia has always stood in favor of indivisible security, creating a system of such security that is so necessary for the world community.

Last December, we proposed a treaty on the guarantees of security, Russia called on the west for an honest dialogue, a reasonable compromise solution in the interest of each other, but that was in vain. The NATO countries did not want to hear us, and that means that in fact they had very different plans, and we could see that.

They openly were preparing for yet another punitive operation in Donbas to invade or an invasion of our historic lands including Crimea. In Kyiv they were talking about the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. The NATO bloc started developing, actively developing territory is adjacent to us, and therefore in a planned way were creating an absolutely unacceptable threat, immediately next to our borders.

Everything pointed to a collision with the Nazis -- with the Nazis and banditries that was inevitable, and that was supported by the west. We could see how military infrastructure was being developed, how hundreds of foreign advisers were at work, regular supplies of the most modern weapons from NATO, danger was increasing every day.

Russia repelled this aggression in a preventive way, and this is the only correct decision, and it was a timely decision, the decision of a sovereign, independent, and powerful nation. The United States, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, started speaking about their exclusivity, their exclusive status. Humiliating not only the whole world but its own satellites who have to pretend they can't notice and swallow it up, laugh it up.

But we are a different country. Russia has a different character, we shall never give up our love for our motherland, our faith, and our traditional values, the customers of our forebears, and respect for all nations and cultures.


In the west, these thousands old values have been canceled. This moral degradation is at the basis of the cynical falsification of the history of World War II, rampant Russophobia, praising traitors, and mockery of the memory of victims, and those who build victory. We know that the American veterans who wanted to attend the parade in Moscow were banned from doing so.

But I want them to know, we are proud of your achievements, of your exploits, and your contribution to our common victory. We honor all members of the allied armies, Americans, British, the courageous members of resistance, and Chinese soldiers, all who contributed to the defeat of Nazism, and imperialism.

Today, the soldiers of Donbas and Russian -- together with the Russian soldiers are fighting in the battlefield where the servicemen of Suvorov and Brusilov and Sviatoslav (Ph), and the many, many heroes of the Russian -- Russian country. I address the serviceman of Donbas. You are fighting for the motherland, for its future, so that lessons of World War II are not forgotten so that there is no place in history for the punitive divisions of Nazis.

We bow our heads to all those who lost their lives in the Second World War, and for the memory of their sons and daughters and fathers and mothers, grandparents, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends and families. We bow our heads to the memory of the martyrs of Odessa, who were burnt alive in 1914 before the memory of the old people of Donbas, and children who died at the barbaric strike -- in the barbaric strike of the neo-Nazis.

We bow our heads before the memory of our comrades at arms who died in the battle in a fair, in a just struggle for Russia, a minute of silence.

Comrades, the death of each soldier and officer is a tragedy for all of us, and is a loss for their loved and families. The state enterprises, and the non-governmental organizations will do everything to surround these families with care, to help them, and we shall give a special support to the children of our dead comrades.

There is a presidential decree about that, and it has been signed. I wish a speedy recovery to those wounded, and I thank the doctors, nurses, and medical personnel in field hospitals for their selfless work. I bow my head to you for saving every life, for struggling for every like, quite often under the fire in the battlefield, without thinking of yourself.

Dear comrades, here and now in the Red Square, shoulder to shoulder our soldiers and officers from many regions of our enormous country, including those who have come straight from Donbas, immediately from the zone of the theater of war.


We remember how our enemies tried to use international terrorism against us, and sow religious hatred to split us from within, to weaken us. They were not successful. Today, our soldiers of various ethnic origins and nationality are standing shoulder to shoulder and covering for each other against the shelling. This is the undefeated strength of our united nation.

Today, you are defending that which the fathers and grandfathers were fighting for. For them, the greatest sense of life with a security of their motherland, and for us their heirs, loyalty to the motherland is the main value and the reliable foundation of Russia's indivisibility.

Those who defeated the Nazis showed us an example of heroism for all eternity. This was a generation of victors, and we shall always look up to them. Glory to our great armed forces, for Russia, for victory. Hurrah.


SOARES: You -- you have been listening that to President Putin in Red Square in Moscow on this Victory Day that's being commemorated in Russia, as it always does every year. And it commemorates, really, the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

Of course, this year, it comes under the shadow of a new war in Europe, an event of course that's taken added significance. We heard President Putin there within about a minute or so of his speech really coming up with conspiracy theories so I think I can say.

Michael Bociurkiw is here with me for more. And what I heard, Michael, a minute or so is that the west, from Putin, the west did not want to listen to Russia, they had other plans. And he kind of hinted there at the fact that the west turned down Russia's proposed security guarantees talking obviously about NATO. What stood out to you?

BOCIURKIW: Well, I don't know if you have the same reaction at the end. But, OK, so what's next?


BOCIURKIW: There is very, very little indication of where things were going to go from here. That could indicate one or two things, I think they don't know yet which way they want to take to escalate or tone things down. Or, on the chilling side of the spectrum is, we're going to go all out.

But yes, very much projecting Russia as the victim, accusing the west the NATO of international terrorism, western aggression -- western aggression. And again, referring to Ukrainians in that insulting way of neo-Nazis.

And the other quick thing is I'm now seeing he's not distinguishing between the Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas, and the Russian armed forces. So that is kind of a behind the scenes acknowledgment that our men are also serving there.

SOARES: And for so long, of course, we have been talking about the fact that perhaps Putin would announce declare officially war in Ukraine. There was -- didn't know what the war, didn't appear in a speech from what I heard and if you heard. But he continues to call it a special military operation.

And he said, the special military operation, I want to quote him, "one needed and timely measure, it was the only right decision," really for winning and winning. He said, what did he say for land, including Crimea?


SOARES: He talked about the volunteers. But where does this go? Because, if this is still very much a special military operation. Are we expecting, here a continuation of what we have seen for the past 70 plus days?

BOCIURKIW: No sign of backing down. That's the chilling point here.


BOCIURKIW: The other thing is he referred to deaths on the Russian side, but no mention of numbers. He thanked nurses, and NGOs, and so on. But I think, I think we are going to see, perhaps, a shift because they're not doing well, as you and I have spoken on the battlefield.



BOCIURKIW: So more of a reliance on artillery, long range rockets. And that is a chilling scenario because of the fact that they tend to strike heavily-populated civilian infrastructure. We had no qualms about that.


SOARES: I want to bring in on Nic Robertson for more of what his takeaway. But Nic, I don't know if you are hearing a speech but he said that NATO was plotting to attack Russia through Ukraine, and he said that, you know, the special military operation was needed because the west did not want to listen to Russia. They had other plans is what he said.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah, it's a reinvigoration of a message that he was leading out with -- in the run up to this war and it amplifies it on a very big stage here, the moment and the place that the world was going to listen to President Putin to see what his intent was on Ukraine.

I was struck by the way that he referred, at least, to the battle zone, if you will, as Donbas rather than the whole of Ukraine. And I was struck. And I think, you know, perhaps, we need to, you know, double -- go back and recheck translations.

But he did, from my recollection of what I was listening to, you know, make the point that some of the soldiers and officers there on Red Square had come -- and the words that I heard were from Donbas, from the words President Putin used, from the theater of war, which, as you noted, would be -- would be a difference in rhetoric from a special military operation.

These people, the soldiers there were fighting for the motherland and particularly to the point that you had been discussing earlier, that Putin particularly pulled his forces and troops in from some of the remoter and poorer regions of Russia, talking about everyone from the different ethnic backgrounds all fighting together for the motherland. These were some of the things that struck me aside from the obvious fact that there was little there to read into how he plans to go forward. No sense at all of backing down, however.

SOARES: Yeah. And you are quite right. As you were talking, Nic, Michael Bociurkiw and I were both nodding in agreement to what we heard. I jotted down as well him thanking the Donbas volunteers and the Russian troops for fighting for the motherland.

The question now is, Nic, what can we expect? How does that translate, perhaps his words, translate to the battlefield here, to the frontline in the east of the country?

ROBERTSON: I think it does give him the ability to have or not have the success that he wanted to have, that his ultimate achievement may be to secure a slightly larger territory within the Donbas and maybe not even within the whole sort of geographically, politically oblasts of -- oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk of Donbas, that he may be able to frame this ultimately as that is what he set out, because he wasn't sort of framing in any way bigger games other than, again, just the Donbas was the area he was talking about.

So, I think it gives him that opportunity and it gives him the ambiguity to reach further along that we know was his original intent. I mean, he clearly hasn't given up on yet, but it must be becoming apparent to him as it is to everyone else that his ground effects have so far been limited and to stretch towards Odessa and along the Black Sea coast as he originally appears to have intended. The moment, that's a stretch that he cannot manage.

So, I think there's ambiguity there that allows him to scale back original objectives into a manageable cell at the end of what may be yet and even more costly conflict for him.

SOARES: And meanwhile, Nic, we did hear from the G7. They had a virtual meeting yesterday. The timing, of course, important given what we're seeing on our screen right now. What was the message from the G7 knowing that this was coming perhaps?

ROBERTSON: That the International Community, the G7 nations continue to stand behind Ukraine in terms of its immediate military needs, in terms of its immediate financial needs to run the country, but its longer-term needs to rebuild.

The territorial integrity and sovereignty that President Zelenskyy of Ukraine spoke to the G7 leaders about, that was endorsed. That's the language that we've heard all along.


ROBERTSON: That commitment remains. And I think that commitment is something that was intended to signal to President Putin that while nothing may have particularly changed in his mind about the conflict, the way that he understands it, in terms of the opposing forces of President Putin, at least, nothing has changed there, and that they will continue to ramp up and continue to try to diminish President Putin's propaganda, the disinformation.

That was one of the commitments from the G7. And also, to (INAUDIBLE) energy imports with the aim of ending as soon as it can be done in a timely way the oil imports from Russia. Again, this would be -- this would be a financial hit for Putin.

SOARES: Nic Robertson for us in Helsinki. Thanks very much, Nic. Michael Bociurkiw is with me now. And Michael, you know, you've seen many of these parades, no doubt, like I have. And often, we see air -- almost like an air show, don't we, an air parade, a portion like Victory Day. This apparently, we are hearing, has been canceled because of the weather. This is coming from Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Looking at this image, it doesn't look like a very cloudy or rainy day.


SOARES: But we have been hearing from Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, saying that the air portion of the victory parade in Moscow has been canceled.

But really, I want to pick up with what we were hearing from Nic there. Putting everything into context what we're hearing from the west and from the G7, the question now becomes, what happens in -- on the front lines? He was focusing very much -- didn't mention Kyiv, didn't mention Ukraine as a whole. He focused on Donbas.

BOCIURKIW: Yeah. If I was a western military planner, I'd be pretty dizzy right now because there are those lack of crucial (INAUDIBLE) to what happens next. But yes, the focus on the Donbas -- I mean, when they started, they only had about 30% of that whole region. They're having real problems getting a hold of key cities. Sloviansk, for example --


BOCIURKIW: -- which they had for a while before in 2014. Also, Kramatorsk, which is very important --


BOCIURKIW: -- militarily. Interesting that they did bring a senior Russian politician to Mariupol.

SOARES: Yeah. Just yesterday.

BOCIURKIW: Yes. That is a very, very brazen move. I'm sure it was spun back home to show that we have the ability to move about. But the fact that, you know, a few scattered clouds or whatever can chase away the Russian armed forces is not a very good sign.

The way forward -- of course, if you're a western military planner, Ukrainian military planner --

SOARES: Uh-hmm.

BOCIURKIW: -- you would like those (INAUDIBLE) to know what they're going to do. But again, my fear is very much how the artillery is going to be used instead of more ground troops.

SOARES: It did sound a bit like, you know, we are defending the motherland.


SOARES: We are grateful, we are victims in all of this. But almost a que for further mobilization of troops and further push and intensity in the battlefield, which, by the way, we have been seeing, we have been seeing in the last few days in the Donbas region. We've seen it also -- you mentioned Kramatorsk, Luhansk --


SOARES: -- with the school shelter being bombed. But the Ukrainians have been able to sustain, kind of we've seen the push and pull, sustain those attacks. The question like you and I were talking about earlier was, how long can they sustain it, because if this is going to be a protracted war, then there are other challenges for President Zelenskyy here.

BOCIURKIW: Exactly. And as much as the west would like to provide these high-tech weapons and get them into the hands of the Ukrainian army as soon as possible, we mustn't forget the human toll.

You and I were talking earlier, I was at the Lychakiv (ph) Cemetery yesterday, and it really brought home the human cost of the war. There are about 66 graves there right now since the beginning of the conflict. They ran out of space inside the cemetery. Now, they're putting graves outside.

So, this has to be remembered from western leaders, that, you know, as much as the Ukrainians are doing a great, great job, there is that human toll not only amongst military --

SOARES: Indeed.

BOCIURKIW: -- but also huge civilian cost.

SOARES: Michael Bociurkiw, I know, will stay with us. We're going to take a very short break. We will be back in just a few minutes. Stay with us.




SOARES: If you're just joining us, welcome. Moments ago, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, delivered defiant speech from Red Square, defending the invasion of Ukraine, which he called the only correct decision.

Vladimir Putin lashed out at the west as well as Ukraine, which he accused of trying to acquire nuclear weapons. He also repeated allegations of Nazism within Ukraine, claiming danger was increasing every day.

President Putin said Russia -- quote "repelled this aggression in a preventative way." These comments come on Victory Day in Russia, which commemorates the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany.

And what we have seen, as you can see there, displays in military might underway in Moscow and continue today, and not just in Moscow, right across the country.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is a long-time observer of Victory Day celebrations in Moscow. She joins us now live from London. Clare, I know you and I have spoken about this because you have witnessed and reported out of Moscow for many years. What -- give me a sense of what you took away not just from the speech, but from the show of military power and military might here today.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's very similar to what we've seen in past years. As I have said, the amount of military hardware that is on display has been accelerating throughout Putin's sort of 22 years in power. It looked very similar to previous years.

But I think what the speech really showed us, we've seen this from President Putin before, when the expectations are very high for him to do something, to perhaps retaliate or make an announcement, there are occasions when he doesn't, and that is perhaps on purpose to sort of keep people guessing, to fuel speculation, and then to turn around and do something again later.

So, that may be what we're looking at here. But what stood out me from what he said was the emphasis on the Donbas region, talking about that in particular, conflating the fighters in the Donbas region with the Russian forces, talking about their sort of collective homeland and what they're fighting for.

That seems to be the sort of major hint that we're getting about the path forward on the battlefield because if you look at what Russia has done on the ground in the sort of relatively few places where they've made gains, is really sort of consolidate those gains, things like Russian road signs, restoring Soviet monuments even in places like Kherson, trying to introduce the ruble in a sort of transitional phase. They're trying to ratify (ph) the areas that they're taking over. I think that is significant, what we hear. I'm talking about the Donbas.

He didn't go as far as some speculated in sort of announcing annexation or going further in terms of sort of speaking about territorial gains.

[03:45:00] SEBASTIAN: But I think the way that he talked about it in the sort of conflation of the Russian troops with the fighters in the Donbas and talking about the homeland, the use of the word "motherland," I thought that was very significant.

SOARES: And, Clare, he also pledged help for the families of Russian soldiers killed in action as well as the volunteers who have been helping. What would be -- how do you see this message playing out inside Russia? Is this further sign of mobilization within the country, you think?

SEBASTIAN: I mean, I think it's hard to say. We haven't really heard him talk about losses on the battlefield. I was struck by that, that he sorts of addressed that head on. He said, you know, we're going to give particular emphasis to the children of those who have been killed in this war. He thanked the doctors in the field hospitals. He said, we bow our heads to you for taking these risks in the battlefield.

So, he did address the fact that this is affecting the Russian armed forces. We know the families of those involved have been speaking out about this. So, that was interesting. It seems he's at a point now where he perhaps can't avoid addressing that.

I don't know whether it signals further mobilization, but I think as a whole, the speech, his appearance today, this sort of show of force, certainly doesn't signal that he's backing away.

SOARES: No, he doesn't seem like he's backing away or doubling down in any sort of way. One thing really that he didn't address, perhaps obvious reasons, were sanctions. You and I have spoken at great length about the sanctions that have been applied from the west on Russia. Have they started -- from what you've seen, Clare, have they started to have an impact on Russian economy?

SEBASTIAN: So, in some ways, yes. And in some ways, not as much as you would expect. The Russian central bank has put out a forecast that basically agrees with world institutions like the IMF and the World Bank that the Russian economy is set to shrink by about 10% this year. It could, of course, be worse than that if we get an energy embargo from the likes of Europe.

But otherwise, they've managed to stabilize the economy, in particular the financial system, Isa. The ruble is now at its highest point against the U.S. dollar since not only before the war but actually since the start of 2020, since before the pandemic. So, they have really stabilized things there.

But one really interesting thing from the speech, he didn't just talk about sort of the military aspect of this. He talked about how, you know, Russia will never give up on our traditional values. He said that in the west, these values have been canceled. He talks about moral degradation in the west.

So, he is not only mobilizing support for the military operation but is sort of mobilizing social support for the Russian way of life against the western way of life. That is something that we've seen in speeches of his, in the narrative that he has fostered throughout this, that it's Russia against the west, the Russian way of life should prevail.

SOARES: Yeah. That is such an interesting point because at the beginning of his speech, if you remember about a minute or so in when he was talking, hinting at NATO and the west, trying to almost justify his actions, Clare, of what his actions in Ukraine, by blaming NATO really, that obviously shifts the propaganda at home.

How do you think or give us a sense 70 days into this war, how has that propaganda machine, you know, how effective is it being in Russia?

SEBASTIAN: Very effective, I think, Isa. I mean, there is very tight control over the media at the moment. Most of the western and independent process shutdown. They've criminalized even calling this a war rather than a special military operation.

The propaganda is certainly very effective. I think what we see from him in the speech, we've seen throughout this, is a sort of direct flipping of the narrative, this sort of unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. It was not that, in his eyes. It was NATO forcing them into this by sort of encroaching on their borders and helping to arm Ukraine. He even accused the west of cynically rewriting the history of World War II.

So, there's a lot of areas where he takes the accusations that have been levelled against Russia and he levels them back against the west. And I think that is somehow a very effective method of winning public opinion. His approval rating, by the way, in Russia, is in the 80s at the moment, according to the "Independent Nevada Center."

SOARES: Wow! Clare Sebastian, very important context there. Appreciate it, Clare. Thank you very much. I think we'll talk in the next hour or so also. And we've got much more, of course, ahead on Russia's Victory Day celebrations and what this could mean, of course, for Ukraine. That's just ahead. Do stay right here with CNN.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Modern Russian forces (ph). They pose the (INAUDIBLE) tank and --




SOARES: Welcome back, everyone. If you're just joining us, let me show you what we are looking at right now. It's -- this is Red Square in Moscow, and we are looking at Victory Day in the country. They are commemorating, of course, Victory Day. They've got a military parade, as is often the case we see every year. Tanks rolling in. This is really Russia trying to show its military might, and not just for propaganda, of course, within the country, as we were hearing from my guest, but also a message really to the west of its military strength.

And we heard in the last few minutes the shortest speech from President Putin, about 50 minutes or so. A very defiant speech, of course, in which he said that the servicemen, the soldiers of Donbas, were his words, are together, Russian soldiers fighting for their motherland. We will keep an eye on these pictures as Russia commemorates Victory Day not just in Moscow but across the country.

And the commemorations in Russia come against, of course, a backdrop of a new war in Europe. This one started by Russia itself.


SOARES: On Sunday, Ukraine marked its own day of remembrance for lives lost during World War II with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accusing Russia of failing to learn the lessons from so many years ago and vowing Ukraine will keep fighting. Have a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): On the day of victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory. The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win. What is our advantage over the enemy? We are smarter by one book. This is a textbook on the history of Ukraine. We would not know grief if all of our enemies could read and draw the right conclusions.

On February 24th, Russia launched an offensive treading on the same rake. Every occupier who comes to our land treads on it. We had been through different wars, but they all had the same final.


SOARES: President Zelenskyy there. We also have a new update from Ukraine's military about conditions on the ground. They say Russia is holding back some of its forces to try to prevent a Ukrainian counterattack near the Russian border, but they say the majority of the fighting still focus very much on Eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, based on video released on Sunday, a Russian deputy prime minister has visited Mariupol. That is the country's highest ranking official to set foot there since the war started. The southern Ukrainian port city has been decimated by weeks of bombardment.

It is now almost entirely under Russian control, except here, inside the sprawling Azovstal steel plant. That is where a group of Ukrainian soldiers are still hold up, refusing to surrender and vowing to fight to the death.

Meanwhile, many of the civilians who spent weeks, if you remember, sheltering inside Azovstal alongside these soldiers are now back on Ukrainian-held territory. The Red Cross said Sunday that more than 170 evacuees from Azovstal and the whole of Mariupol had arrived in Zaporizhzhia that is Ukrainian -- under Ukrainian control. So, some good news, of course, for those arriving in Zaporizhzhia making out of Mariupol. I'm Isa Soares in Lviv, Ukraine. Our coverage continues after a very short break. You are watching CNN.