KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia has implemented a major security clampdown ahead of Tuesday’s annual commemoration marked the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, banning the use of drones and ride-sharing services in its largest cities — even jet skis on the canals of St. Petersburg — in the midst of its 14-month war with Ukraine.
At least 21 Russian cities canceled May 9 military parades – the main part of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations – for the first time in years, Russian media said.
Regional officials blamed unspecified “security concerns” or vaguely defined “current circumstances” for the restrictions and cancellations. It is unclear whether their decisions were made in coordination with the Kremlin.
Last week, Russia — which did not witness the carnage Ukraine suffered during the invasion — was bombarded with unclear official reports. that two Ukrainian drones flew over central Moscow under the cover of darkness and reached the Kremlin before being shot down.
Media and local officials have blamed other sporadic drone attacks, particularly targeting oil depots near the border between the two countries, on the Ukrainian military. Kyiv officials have refused to comment on such claims.
Fears of a possible Ukrainian attack appeared real, though parades would continue in Russia’s largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. But the use of drones was banned in both cities before Victory Day.
In St. Petersburg, often referred to as the “Venice of the north” for its network of rivers and canals, the use of jet skis in some parts of the city is prohibited until Wednesday. In the Russian capital, car-sharing services have been temporarily banned in the city center — drivers cannot start or end rides there — amid preparations for the traditional Red Square parade.
Initially, only one foreign leader was expected to attend the parade in Moscow this year — Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov, who arrived on Monday and met with Putin for talks. That was one more foreign guest than last year, when no leaders came amid Putin’s wide diplomatic estrangement from the war. The Kremlin said at the time that it was not inviting anyone because it was not a “round-number anniversary.”
But on Monday officials announced that Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon would join Putin and Zhaparov at the celebration, along with Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, and Kazakhstan’s leader, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Late Monday, Belarusian media said the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, had arrived in Moscow to attend the parade. His presence is significant because Russia bases troops and weapons used in Ukraine 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 because in the past they have fallen out of line with Putin. Kazakhstan and Armenia, though allies of Russia, have not publicly supported the war in Ukraine. In fact, Tokayev spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the phone several times throughout 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-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, but Pashinyan alienated Moscow earlier this year by refusing to host the alliance’s military drills.
May 9 is usually a bank holiday in Ukraine, but not this year, because of the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that he had sent a draft bill to parliament proposing a Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism in World War II on May 8, and a Europe Day on May 9, further distancing Kyiv from Moscow.
Zelenskyy equates Russia’s goals in Ukraine with those of the Nazis. “Unfortunately, evil has returned,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram. “Although now it is another aggressor, the goal is the same – enslavement or destruction.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is scheduled to travel to Kyiv on Tuesday to mark Europe Day with Zelenskyy.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian air defenses downed 35 Iranian-made drones over Kyiv in Russia’s latest overnight attack, while attacks across Ukraine by Kremlin forces killed four civilians, the officials on Monday.
Five people in the capital were injured by falling drone debris, according to Serhii Popko, head of the Kyiv City Military Administration. Air raid alarms sounded for more than three hours during the night.
The drone wreckage hit a two-story apartment building in Kyiv’s western Svyatoshynskyi district, while other debris hit a car parked nearby, setting it on fire, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a Telegram post.
Russia faces economic sanctions and limits on its supply chains because of its widespread invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow regularly turns to Iranian Shahed drones to boost its firepower.
Russia’s attack on 127 targets in the north, south and east of Ukraine killed three civilians, the Ukrainian defense ministry said. Russian long-range bombers launched up to eight cruise missiles in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region, authorities said. One person died and three others were injured.
Some of the Soviet-era cruise missiles fired against the Odesa region self-destructed or fell into the sea before reaching their targets, according to Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuri Ihnat.
Meanwhile, authorities installed in Russia have begun evacuating residents of Tokmak, a town in the front-line southern Zaporizhzhia region, to the Black Sea coast, Ukraine’s General Staff said.
Those working for Kremlin-appointed local authorities, as well as children and education workers, are being moved to Berdyansk, a Russian-occupied coastal city about 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the southeast, it said.
On Friday, the Russian-appointed governor of the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region ordered the evacuation of civilians from 18 settlements there, including Enerhodar, which neighbors the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Speculation has been building for months about the timing and focus of Ukraine’s expected spring offensive, with some analysts saying Kyiv may try to strike south at Zaporizhzhia to split Russian forces and cut Moscow’s land link in the occupied Crimean Peninsula.
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