Russian President Vladimir Putin used his speech at the annual Victory Day parade to say it's Russia's duty to protect the memory of those who defeated Nazism, and Moscow's military action in Ukraine was a preemptive move to ward off aggression.
The annual show in Red Square commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany has become so ritualized that one year's parade is barely distinguishable from others. A previously unseen piece of equipment might appear; the medal-festooned World War II veterans in the viewing stands become frailer and fewer in number each year. Its predictability can dilute its emotional power.
Putin then took the stand for a speech, claiming the West was preparing for the invasion "of our land," while NATO was creating "threats at our borders". He, however, did not declare the "special military operation" in Ukraine as official war - as some expected - instead, saying the "operation" was necessary to "save" the Donbass region.
He directly addressed soldiers fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Russia has pledged to "liberate" from Kyiv's control.
"You are fighting for the Motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War Two. So that there is no place in the world for executioners, punishers and Nazis," he said.
This year, as Russian troops fight grueling battles in Ukraine and unleash torrents of missiles and bombs, few Russians are likely to be dulled by the parade's rituals. Instead, they will watch it for signs of what could come next in the conflict.
When asked whether mobilization rumors could dampen the Victory Day mood, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "nothing will cast a shadow" over "the sacred day, the most important day" for Russians.
Human rights groups report a spike in calls from people asking about laws concerning mobilization and their rights in case of being ordered to join the military.
Russian state TV has ramped up the patriotic rhetoric. In announcing the Feb. 24 military operation, Putin declared it was aimed at the "demilitarization" of Ukraine to remove a perceived military threat to Russia by "neo-Nazis."
In his 11-minute speech, Putin did not mention Ukraine by name, gave no assessment of progress in the war and offered no indication of how long it might continue. There was no mention of the bloody battle for Mariupol, where Ukrainian defenders holed up in the ruins of the Azovstal steel works are still defying Russia's assault.
Putin has repeatedly likened the war - which he casts as a battle against dangerous "Nazi"-inspired nationalists in Ukraine - to the challenge the Soviet Union faced when Adolf Hitler invaded in 1941.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said it is Russia that is staging a "bloody re-enactment of Nazism" in Ukraine.