KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russia imposed a major security crackdown ahead of the annual festivities on Tuesday Marking Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II, limiting the use of drones and ride-sharing services in its biggest cities – even jet skis on St. Petersburg’s canals – amid its 14-month war with Ukraine.
At least 21 Russian cities have canceled military parades on May 9 – a staple of Victory Day celebrations across Russia – for the first time in years, Russian media said.
Provincial officials blamed unspecified “security concerns” or referred vaguely to the “current situation” regarding restrictions and cancellations. It was not clear if their decisions were taken in coordination with the Kremlin.
Last week, Russia – which did not witness the carnage that Ukraine experienced during the invasion – was shaken by vague official reports. Two Ukrainian drones flew into the heart of Moscow under cover of darkness and reached the Kremlin before they were shot down.
Media and local officials blamed the Ukrainian military for sporadic drone attacks, especially targeting oil depots near the two countries’ borders. Kiev officials refuse to comment on such allegations.
Fears of a possible Ukrainian attack appeared real, though rallies continued in Russia’s largest cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. But the use of drones was banned in both cities before D-Day.
In St. Petersburg, often referred to as the “Venice of the North” for its network of rivers and canals, jet skis are banned in certain parts of the city until Wednesday. In the Russian capital, car-sharing services have been temporarily banned from the city center — drivers will not be able to start or finish a ride there — amid preparations for the traditional Red Square parade.
Initially, only one foreign leader was expected to attend the Moscow parade this year — Kyrgyz President Sadir Zabrov, who arrived on Monday and met Putin for talks. This was an additional foreign guest compared to last year, when no leader went amid Putin’s widespread diplomatic isolation over the war. The Kremlin said at the time that it did not invite any because it was not a “full-numbered memory”.
But officials announced on Monday that Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon will join Putin and Zabarov at the festivities, along with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Kazakhstan’s leader Kasym-Jomart Tokayev.
Belarusian media said late Monday that the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, had arrived in Moscow to attend the military parade. Its presence is important because Russia has troops and weapons used in Ukraine stationed in Belarus, and Putin said in March that tactical nuclear weapons would be stationed there.
Pashinyan and Tokayev were surprising choices for the guest list, having in the past diverged from Putin’s line. Kazakhstan and Armenia, though allies of Russia, have not publicly supported the war in Ukraine. In fact, Tokayev spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone several times throughout the course of the invasion.
Tokayev also told Putin last summer that Kazakhstan would not recognize the Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.
Armenia is a member of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, but Pashinyan snubbed Moscow earlier this year by refusing to host the alliance’s military exercises.
May 9 is usually a bank holiday in Ukraine too, but not this year, because of the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday he had sent a bill to parliament proposing a day of remembrance and victory over Nazism in World War Two on May 8 and Europe Day on May 9, distancing Kiev from Moscow.
Zelensky equated Russia’s goals in Ukraine with those of the Nazis. “Unfortunately, evil is back,” Zelensky said via Telegram. “Although now she is another aggressor, the goal is the same – to enslave or destroy.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is due to travel to Kiev on Tuesday to celebrate Europe Day with Zelensky.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian air defenses shot down 35 Iranian-made drones over Kiev in Russia’s latest overnight attack, as attacks by Kremlin forces across Ukraine killed four civilians, officials said Monday.
Five people were injured in the capital by falling debris from a drone, according to Serhiy Popko, head of the Kiev city military administration. Air raid alerts sounded for more than three hours during the night.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a post on Telegram that drone debris hit a two-storey apartment building in the western Svyatoshynskyi district of Kiev, while other debris hit a car parked nearby, setting it on fire.
Russia faced economic sanctions and restrictions on its supply chains for its all-out invasion of Ukraine In February 2022. Moscow routinely turned to Iranian “Shahid” UAVs to enhance its firepower.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said that the Russian bombing of 127 targets in the northern, southern and eastern parts of Ukraine resulted in the deaths of three civilians. Authorities said Russian long-range bombers fired up to eight cruise missiles at the Odessa region of southern Ukraine. One person was killed and three others were injured.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said that some of the Soviet-era cruise missiles fired at the Odessa region self-destructed or fell into the sea before reaching their targets.
Meanwhile, Russia-installed authorities have begun evacuating residents of Tokmak, a town in the southern front-line Zaporizhia region, toward the Black Sea coast, according to Ukraine’s General Staff.
It added that workers for local authorities appointed by the Kremlin, as well as children and education workers, would be taken to Berdyansk, a Russian-occupied port city about 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the southeast.
On Friday, the Russian-appointed governor of Zaporizhia region ordered the evacuation of civilians from 18 settlements there, including Enerhudar, which is adjacent to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.
Speculation has been mounting for months about the timing and focus of Ukraine’s expected spring offensive, with some analysts saying Kiev might try to strike south of Zaporizhia in order to split Russian forces and sever Moscow’s land link to occupied Crimea.
Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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