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The West Holds Its Breath as Russia Holds Victory Day Celebrations

Fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin may escalate the war today come as the West lacks a plan to end it.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Russian servicemen leave after the general rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade.
Russian servicemen leave after the general rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade.
Russian servicemen leave after the general rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 7. URI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Russia’s Victory Day parade as well as Western strategy in Ukraine, the Philippines’ presidential election, and the world this week.

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Russia’s Curious Victory Day Parade

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Russia’s Victory Day parade as well as Western strategy in Ukraine, the Philippines’ presidential election, and the world this week.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Russia’s Curious Victory Day Parade

In cities and towns across the country today, Russians will mark the 77th anniversary of victory over the Nazis in World War II as the Kremlin attempts to tie that historic sacrifice to today’s war in Ukraine.

Speculation is mounting that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the celebrations to declare a further escalation in the conflict, abandoning the official line of a “special military operation” in favor of an outright declaration of war, with a full societal mobilization to go along with it.

As Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer, Jack Detsch, and Amy Mackinnon reported on Friday, experts both in and out of government fear the May 9 celebration could serve as a launchpad for other shows of Russian force, from a military parade in Mariupol to announcing new elections in the occupied cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kherson.

Western leaders attempted to preempt Putin by announcing further sanctions on Russia on Sunday. The new measures included a pledge from G-7 nations to “phase out” the use of Russian energy, a position that stops short of a ban and gives wiggle room to some members.

(Last week, Japan’s minister for trade and the economy, Koichi Hagiuda, said his country “would face some difficulty to keep in step immediately” with its Western partners on banning Russian imports given “Japan has its limit on resources.”)

The new sanctions come after a weekend where Western leaders made more public shows of support. On Sunday, U.S. First Lady Jill Biden met with Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in the southwestern city of Uzhhorod while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. Trudeau also reopened Canada’s embassy there that same day.

Although Putin’s intentions for Ukraine may become clearer today, those of his adversaries in the West are still murky. The objective seems to be shifting from protecting Ukraine to weakening Russia, as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hinted at in a controversial statement last month.

Members of U.S. Congress have been even more explicit. Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Fox News last week that the United States was “fundamentally at war, although somewhat through a proxy” with Russia.

Reports from last week that U.S. intelligence had helped Ukrainian forces target Russian generals as well as the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, “suggest we are no longer in an indirect war with Russia but rather are edging toward a direct war—and no one has prepared the American people or Congress for that,” columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in Friday’s New York Times.

John Deni, a professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, made the case for weakening Russia in Foreign Policy last week. Deni argues for a new approach in the economic, military, and diplomatic arenas that “accepts the reality that no combination of carrots or sticks can change Russia’s geopolitical or historical reality and therefore the Kremlin’s behavior.” To prevent Putin from threatening U.S. interests on a whim, Deni contends, “Washington should aim to erode Russian power by competing directly with Moscow and engaging in its zero-sum game.”

How the United States should approach Russia is by no means a settled debate in Washington, where there is still wariness over the shifting focus of the war, as FP’s Michael Hirsh explored late last month. “We need to start moving beyond Javelins and anti-tank missiles and talk about a political endgame,” Charles Kupchan, an international relations expert at Georgetown University, told Hirsh.


The World This Week

Tuesday, May 10: U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the White House.

An arraignment takes place in the case of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was recently extradited to the United States on drug trafficking charges.

New South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is inaugurated.

Thursday, May 12: The United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal co-host the second Global COVID-19 Summit.

Biden hosts the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a two-day U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit.

G-7 foreign ministers meet in Weissenhaus, Germany, for discussions that proceed until May 14.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hosts the Japan-EU summit with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Saturday, May 14:
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock hosts her fellow NATO foreign ministers for two days of meetings.

Sunday, May 15: Lebanon holds parliamentary elections.

Lawmakers in Somalias House of the People elect the country’s next president.

A two-day meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council takes place in France.


What We’re Following Today

The Philippines decides. With polls expected to close shortly, exit polls should soon predict the next president of the Philippines in an election that has revived the political fortunes of the Marcos family following their exile in 1986. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr. has been favored in polls heading into today’s contest, with some predicting a landslide victory.

Macron meets Scholz. French President Emmanuel Macron makes his first foreign trip since his reelection when he visits German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin today. The two are expected to discuss defense and energy issues, according to Macron’s office, and will hold a joint press conference following their meeting.


Keep an Eye On

The Americas summit. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Sunday that he would press Biden to expand the roster of nations at next month’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, telling an audience in Havana that “nobody should exclude anyone.” U.S. officials have already said the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela would not be invited to the summit.

Northern Ireland’s future. British Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis will meet with political leaders in Belfast, Northern Ireland, today following local elections last week in a bid to kick-start negotiations for a power-sharing government.

Thursday’s vote saw the Sinn Féin party win more seats than the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), making it the first time an Irish nationalist party has topped the polls in Northern Ireland. In the past, the DUP has threatened not to form a government unless its demands on post-Brexit customs measures are met.


Odds and Ends

Authorities in Rome have banned picnics in northern parts of the city after a wild boar infestation there has led to concerns over the spread of African swine fever. The disease, which is harmless in humans, was detected in a dead boar last week in a nearby nature reserve.

The picnic ban is part of a number of measures to address Rome’s boar population, which have included fencing off trash bins as well as self-imposed curfews to avoid attacks.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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