It is considered a major turning point in World War II and is a symbol of patriotism. Russia celebrates 80 years since the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad this Thursday, February 2. The celebrations come as fierce fighting pits Russian forces against Ukrainian soldiers in the former Soviet republic, the scene for more than a year of a Russian offensive launched according to the Kremlin to "demilitarize" and "denazify" this country neighbor.
Considered one of the bloodiest in history, with around two million deaths in total on both sides, the Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943) changed the course of the conflict in the Soviet Union, demoralized until then by several crushing defeats. It is still glorified by Russia, which claims the legacy of the Soviet Union as the event that saved Europe from Nazism.
The victory in this battle takes on added symbolic significance as we approach the first anniversary of the February 24, 2022 launch of the Russian operation in Ukraine, where Moscow is stepping up its actions after the recent capture of Soledar, a town in eastern Ukraine. , a first success for the Russian forces for many months and a series of setbacks. Russian President Vladimir Putin himself does not hesitate to draw a parallel between the resistance against Hitler and the offensive in Ukraine.
“Forgetting the lessons of history leads to the repetition of terrible tragedies. The proof of this is the crimes against civilians, the ethnic cleansing [and] the punitive actions organized by the neo-Nazis in Ukraine”, he thus affirmed last Friday, on the occasion of the international day of the victims of the Holocaust. "It is against this evil that our soldiers bravely fight," he added.
These statements provoked strong reactions. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna called them "appalling" and "shocking", and an "unworthy provocation" on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Russian president will travel to Volgograd to take part in the celebrations, according to the Kremlin. In this city of a million inhabitants on the banks of the Volga, which is none other than the former Stalingrad, Wednesday February 1 and Thursday February 2 have been declared non-working days. The decision was made "in view of the special significance of the defeat of Nazi forces in the Battle of Stalingrad for the final victory" in World War II, the regional administration explained.
On the eve of the 80th anniversary of the victory at Stalingrad, a bust of Stalin was unveiled in Volgograd, alongside those of two military leaders famous for their role in that battle, Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Vasilyevsky. Thursday, a military parade and a concert will be part of the celebrations, while flowers and wreaths will flood the Mamayev Kurgan, a strategic hill which was the subject of terrible fighting, in the morning.
A gigantic memorial dominated by a giant statue of the Motherland, which was inaugurated on this hill in 1967, has for decades been a place of pilgrimage for Russians wishing to pay homage to the exploits of the Soviet army and people.
The Battle of Stalingrad, which began in July 1942, lasted 200 days and nights. The city, transformed into fields of ruins, was the scene of devastating German aerial bombardments and street battles of extreme violence. On February 2, 1943, the troops of German Marshal Friedrich Paulus capitulated, surrounded by the Red Army, this surrender being the first of the Nazi army since the beginning of the war.
Entirely rebuilt by order of the Soviet authorities, Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd in 1961, eight years after the death of Joseph Stalin. Since 2013, according to a decision of local elected officials, the city has been "renamed" Stalingrad six times a year, including February 2, the anniversary of Stalingrad's victory and May 9, the date when Russia celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany.