Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to a packed Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow over the weekend, gathered to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea.
Roughly 200,000 “specially invited” guests turned up to wave flags and cheer Putin. Reporters on the site say that most of the attendees were state employees, such as teachers, who had been ordered to attend by their employers, or students compelled to take part.
The highlight of the event was a speech by Putin, who used the occasion to rally public opinion for the ongoing war in Ukraine. Television viewers didn’t see the end of the president’s remarks, however, as the transmission abruptly cut away to pre-recorded footage of a performance by singer Oleg Gazmanov, Meduza reports. The Kremlin attributed the incident to a technical error.
In his speech, Putin repeated unfounded allegations that the Ukrainian government had committed “genocide” against ethnic Russians – one of the government’s justifications for the invasion.
Tens of thousands of people waved Russian flags and chanted "Russia, Russia, Russia" as Putin spoke.
"We know what we need to do, how to do it and at what cost. And we will absolutely accomplish all of our plans," Putin told the rally from a stage decked out with slogans such as "For a world without Nazism" and "For our president", Reuters reports.
Many of the Russian slogans used at the rally incorporated the "Z" symbol that Russian forces have used as a motif in Ukraine. One read "Za Putina" – "for Putin".
"Shoulder to shoulder, they help each other, support each other and when needed they shield each other from bullets with their bodies like brothers. Such unity we have not had for a long time," Putin said.
Describing Russian soldiers dying for each other on the battlefield, Putin said: “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such unity.”
Somewhat bizarrely, Putin quoted from the Bible as part of his address saying: “At this point, I recall the words from the Holy Scripture: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And we are seeing how heroically our military is fighting during this operation.”
Putin also highlighted that Russia’s “special military operations” began on the birthday of one of his favourite military leaders, Fedor Ushakov. “He did not lose a single battle throughout his brilliant career. He once said that these thunderstorms would glorify Russia. This is how it was in his time; this is how it is today and will always be!” Putin said, who is known to be an amateur history buff.
Ushakov was an 18th-century Russian admiral and famous for winning every engagement he participated in as the Admiral of the Russian fleet. Ushakov was later canonised by the Russian Orthodox church in 2001 and declared the patron saint of the Russian Navy.
Journalists at The Moscow Times reported that Putin made this speech while wearing a jacket made by the Italian clothing company Loro Piana that retails for almost $15,000.