Apr 10, 2022 - Politics & Policy

May 9 Russian holiday will be pivotal, dangerous deadline

Illustration of Vladimir Putin looking into the distance, the background is made up of a distressed Russian flag.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The next four weeks — leading up to an annual Victory Day celebration in Moscow — are a crucial and intensely dangerous period in Russia's war on Ukraine, U.S. officials and others familiar with Russian military history tell Axios.

Why it matters: May 9 is a major holiday in the Russian Federation, with the country closing down each year to mark its World War II victory over the Nazis. That makes it a deadline with significant symbolism in Russian domestic politics.

  • Russia either may be repelled in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region by then and forced to claim false victories — or have used a brutal assault to cinch a strategic win.
  • Any momentum would feed a push westward toward Kyiv.

What they're saying: A senior Defense Department official told Axios on Thursday the U.S. and other allies are rushing myriad forms of military assistance to Ukraine knowing the stakes of the next month.

  • Separately, retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a former infantry officer and National Security Council director of European affairs, told Axios on Sunday: "This is, actually, a bit more of a dangerous situation, more of a turning point, than anything we've seen thus far."
  • "Russia can achieve objectives here," said Vindman, a Ukraine-born, naturalized American citizen and Iraq combat veteran who testified at former President Trump's first impeachment trial.
  • "I think that, if Russia were to lose, it would be spent" and only able to hold the territory it had. "But, if they succeed, I fear, it's a recipe for a protracted war, and Russia will not stop at limited gains. Protracted war is a recipe for spillage over into, potentially, confrontation with NATO."

What we're watching: Russian forces on Friday were accused of firing a missile on civilians at a train station as they tried to flee the onslaught in the Donbas.

  • This weekend, the BBC and New York Times reported Russian President Vladimir Putin had consolidated control of his country's military effort under a general known for his brutality in Syria.
  • National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that "we will continue to take every step we possibly can to help the Ukrainians succeed on the battlefield and to improve their position at the negotiating table."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded for all forms of weaponry ahead of the Russian assault.

"We propose to the West and to NATO a fair deal," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "You provide us with everything that we need, and we fight so that you don't have to step up in the fight ... when Putin decides to test Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty."

  • Vindman said Ukraine needs a resupply of traditional artillery, as well as drones and multiple-launch rocket systems.
  • "Why are we leaving it at a coin-flip, instead of tipping the scales heavily in Ukraine's favor and making sure they win this next battle?"

Flashback: The Kyiv Independent said on March 24 that Russian troops were being told the war must end by May 9.

  • It cited intelligence "from the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine."

What's next: Support for Ukraine is a leading focus of congressional delegation trips over the Easter/Passover recess.

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