Dozens of Russians from countries of the former Soviet Union living in Thessaloniki, as well as Greeks, gathered at the White Tower monument to pay tribute to Victory Day.
The rally was held to mark the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. Crowds chanted slogans in favour of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia.
Some of them held flags with orange and black ribbons, a symbol of bravery and courage, which comes from the Russian coat of arms of St. George.
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Meanwhile, Putin said Russian forces in Ukraine were fighting for the future of their motherland, in his annual address marking victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Despite rumours he would make a major announcement his speech stuck largely to defending Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
He tied the war in Ukraine to victory in 1945, blaming the West and NATO for rejecting security demands.
Defending the motherland had always been sacred, he said, referring to the eastern region which is now the main focus of Russia’s assault: “Today you are fighting for our people in Donbas, for the security of Russia, our homeland.”
He also made allegations against NATO and Ukraine and described the invasion as a pre-emptive rebuff: “They were preparing a punishing operation in Donbas to intrude on our historic lands. In Kyiv they were saying they might get nuclear weapons and NATO started exploring the lands close to us, and that became an obvious threat to us and our borders.”
Ukrainian presidential official Mykhailo Podoliak later responded, tweeting that there were no rational grounds for the war: “NATO countries were not going to attack Russia. Ukraine did not plan to attack Crimea.”
There had been speculation that Russia’s president may be considering a change of military strategy, either a full declaration of war, rather than the current so-called special military operation, or a mobilisation of Russian men to boost the armed forces.
Instead he said he was signing a decree for families of the dead and wounded in Ukraine to receive special support. During a meeting later in the day with the father of a serviceman killed in eastern Ukraine, he said everything was going according to plan and the “result will be achieved”.
There was a minute of silence, including for the fallen in Ukraine, and he ended his 11-minute address with the words: “Glory to our armed forces – for Russia, for victory, hurrah”, at which the assembled forces responded with a big cheer.
The parade was more modest than in recent years. Russian news agencies said 11,000 troops and 131 armoured vehicles took part in the event, including Russia’s widely feted Armata tanks, which have not been considered combat-ready for the war in Ukraine.
There was no sign of chief of staff Valery Gerasimov, who according to some unconfirmed reports may have been wounded on a recent visit to the front line in Donbas.
Not everything went according to plan. A flypast by the air force had to be cancelled shortly before the parade because of “weather conditions”, according to the Kremlin.
Ahead of Victory Day, warplanes had rehearsed over Red Square in a Z-formation, the motif used by the Russian state during its war in Ukraine.
Smaller parades took part in cities across Russia and the weather was also blamed for similar cancellations of flypasts in Yekaterinburg, Rostov and Novosibirsk.
There was no mention in Vladimir Putin’s speech of Mariupol, the southern Ukrainian port city where a small group of Ukrainian neo-Nazi Azov Battalion militants continue to hold out in a maze of tunnels under the Azovstal steelworks. Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were trying to storm the plant backed up by tank and artillery fire.
But Russia was able to claim limited success on Monday in Kherson, the one Ukrainian city it can claim to have fully occupied.
State-run news agency Ria Novosti showed footage of a Victory Day march in memory of those who died in the war. It was led by Volodymyr Saldo, a pro-Russian local official who has been named Kherson governor and is now being investigated for treason by Ukraine.