In a speech at a packed Moscow stadium Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized that the “special military operation” in Ukraine is an effort to “save people from genocide” and to “demilitarize and denazify” the country.
During his appearance at the pro-Russia rally, which marked the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin also quoted Scripture. “There is no greater love than giving up one’s soul for one’s friends,” he said, paraphrasing Jesus’ words from John 15:13.
Vladimir Putin’s Pro-War Rally Focuses on Russian Patriotism
According to Russian officials, more than 200,000 people gathered Friday in and around Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 81,000. Attendees waved Russian flags marked with the letter “Z” and listened to patriotic songs, in an atmosphere one reporter called “very Wrestlemania.”
The rally celebrated what Russia labels the “reunification” of Crimea, which it officially annexed on March 18, 2014. But Putin also used the occasion to praise Russia’s brave soldiers and to justify last month’s invasion of Ukraine, which continues to intensify.
“We know what we need to do, how to do it, and at what cost,” Putin told the cheering crowd. “And we will absolutely accomplish all of our plans.” The 69-year-old Russian leader repeated his justification that the “main purpose” of the operation in Ukraine is to “save people from suffering and genocide.”
In Ukraine, Russian soldiers are fighting “shoulder to shoulder,” Putin said, adding, “We haven’t had such unity in such a long time.” He also promised to “bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”
Putin’s speech was briefly interrupted by what a Kremlin spokesman later called a technical glitch. Russian state television later rebroadcast the leader’s entire five-minute message.
Some People Say They Were Forced to Attend the Rally
A BBC reporter who spoke to Russians waiting to enter the stadium says many described being pressured by employers to attend. “I think most people here don’t support the war; I don’t,” said one man, a state worker who indicated he was forced to attend—and would stay only “for a while.” Some students told the BBC they were told they could go attend “a concert” to get a break from classroom lectures.