The Kremlin is trying to muster the usual patriotic fervor that grips the country in the days before the May 9 Victory Day parade, but unease with Russia’s stumbling war in Ukraine keeps bursting forth.
The latest manifestation came from Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenary group, who used what he said were the newly bloody corpses of his fighters as the backdrop for another expletive-laced rant against the top military leadership. He also threatened to pull his fighters out of the long embattled Ukrainian city of Bakhmut if the Ministry of Defense doesn’t provide more ammunition.
That was just one of a series of events that contributed to a sense that the war effort, and by extension the country, was adrift as Russia braces for a long-anticipated spring offensive by Ukraine.
Two explosions rocked the Kremlin in the middle of the night on Wednesday, in what the Russians claimed was a failed drone attack by Ukraine, a claim the Ukrainians quickly denied. Ukraine said Russia might have done it to drum up domestic support for the faltering war, but no matter who did it, it was seen by some as a sign of Kremlin weakness.
By publicizing the attack, Russian officials were acknowledging their “vulnerability, weakness and helplessness,” Leonid Volkov, an exiled associate of the imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, wrote in a social media post.
The explosions came in tandem with a number of oil storage facilities igniting and trains derailing near the border, all attributed to Ukrainian drones or sabotage.
Other events added to a sense of anxiety, including a bizarre interview by the head of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, who accused the United States of starting the war to seize territory ahead of an anticipated cataclysmic explosion of a volcano at Yellowstone.
“Everyone is nervous, sitting on the edge of their seats,” said Clifford Kupchan, a Russia specialist who is chairman of the Eurasia Group, a Washington-based political risk assessment firm. “You have the most revered Russian military holiday dovetailing with the coming Ukrainian offensive and all of these explosive events.”
That ratchets up the stakes for Moscow, Mr. Kupchan said. “It is yet another cause of the high tension that we are seeing right now and the jitters on both sides,” he added.
President Vladimir V. Putin has remained silent, as he sometimes has in the past amid rapid-fire events. But his nationwide Victory Day speech on Tuesday could offer some clues to his thoughts.
“The longer Putin is silent, the more everyone will think that he is confused and does not know what to do,” Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
In one sign of heightened security fears, Red Square, which forms the very heart of Moscow, has been closed to the public since the end of April. Numerous parades around the country are being scaled back or canceled. The one in Moscow, however, is expected to be the usual, carefully choreographed display of raw power, even if the reputation of the military has been diminished. Some pro-war bloggers have lashed out at the business-as-usual parade, saying the men and weapons would be better deployed in Ukraine.
Mr. Prigozhin has gone on rants previously, but Mr. Putin has been loath to either rebuke him publicly or the top military leaders whom he denigrated — Sergei K. Shoigu, the minister of defense and Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the armed forces.
There is evident pressure on Mr. Prigozhin and other military commanders to have some results to brag about for Victory Day. Mr. Prigozhin, for his part, announced that his withdrawal would happen the day after the holiday.
A similar outburst by Mr. Prigozhin previously won him some of the ammunition and recruits that he wanted, although nobody is quite sure of the numbers. Several Russia analysts expect the Ministry of Defense to meet some of Mr. Prigozhin’s demands this time too, since there is no ready alternative to his estimated 10,000 men in Bakhmut.
“I would strongly doubt that the Russians are going to withdraw from Bakhmut, so that is histrionics,” Mr. Kupchan said.
Milana Mazaeva contributed reporting.