Ukraine war: Russia denies it plans to declare war on 9 May

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A Russian Su-35S combat aircraft and a Tu-95ms strategic bomber fly in formation above a church during a rehearsal for the flypast,Image source, Reuters
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Rehearsals for this year's victory parade took place in the sky over Moscow on Wednesday

Russia has dismissed speculation that it will declare all-out war in Ukraine in the coming days as "nonsense".

Moscow has up until now denied it is at war, instead referring to the invasion as a "special military operation".

But Western officials have speculated that President Vladimir Putin could use the 9 May Victory Parade to announce an escalation of military action.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, said there was no truth to the rumours "at all".

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said last week that the Moscow parade - commemorating the defeat of the Nazis and end of World War Two - might be used to drum up support for a mass mobilisation of troops and renewed push into Ukraine.

"I would not be surprised, and I don't have any information about this, that he is probably going to declare on this May Day that 'we are now at war with the world's Nazis and we need to mass mobilise the Russian people'," he told LBC radio.

Russian officials only refer to the invasion as a "special military operation" to "demilitarise" or "de-Nazify" the country, referencing a baseless claim about Nazis in the Ukrainian government which Moscow used to justify the invasion.

As well as the annual parade in Moscow, there are also long-standing reports that the Kremlin is planning some sort of additional parade in the city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, almost all of which is now under Russian control. Ukrainian forces remain in one area of the city - a vast industrial steelworks called Azovstal.

Latest reports suggest that after the recent successful evacuation of some civilians, attacks on the steelworks have resumed and contact has been lost with the last remaining soldiers inside.

Ukrainian officials say the streets of the city centre are being cleared of debris, bodies, and unexploded bombs. Large parts of the city lie in ruins, after Russian forces bombarded it relentlessly for weeks under siege.

Ukrainian politician Alyona Shkrum told the BBC she was expecting things to become more difficult alongside Russia's victory day celebrations.

"For Putin and for the empire he's trying to build, basically this is a symbolic day, right?" she said.

"So he takes some kind of victory day and he turns it into a big fight right now against Nazis, which is obviously Russian propaganda and completely ridiculous.

"We are expecting that there will be quite tough times here in Kyiv and in Odesa and in Mariupol, and in other cities for 9 May."

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is only one person who can be absolutely sure of how Russia plans to mark its annual Victory Day on 9 May and that is Vladimir Putin. And he is keeping his cards close to his chest.

Moscow's denial that it plans to declare war that day need to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.

In the days leading up to the invasion on 24 February Russian officials queued up to ridicule suggestions of an imminent invasion as "western hysteria and propaganda". Yet invade they did, catching even many Ukrainians by surprise.

So the very least we can expect is some triumphant announcements of objectives achieved and enemies (real or imagined) vanquished.

Blame for the slow pace of Russian advance in the eastern Donbas region will likely be placed on Nato and there will probably be further warnings to the West to stop helping Ukraine defend itself.

Whatever happens on 9 May it is hard to see this war ending any time soon.

War in Ukraine: More coverage

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Watch: 64-year-old Tatyana lost her home in Mariupol, and says she has nowhere else to go