President Vladimir Putin was the featured in-person speaker at a huge pro-war rally that filled Luzhniki national soccer stadium in Moscow on Friday. Media reports estimate some 200,000 people were present for the event which featured patriotic music, and had the atmosphere of something like a large political rally in the US.
“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 crowd. He described the invasion of Ukraine which kicked off on Feb.24 as necessary in order to stop “genocide” of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine.
“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 in the speech.
He also generally described a continuing military offensive bent on eradicating Ukraine of “Nazis” – which was accented by the large slogan in Russian which appeared on the stage: “For a world without Nazism”.
The Associated Press described of the Russian president’s appearance at the event:
Standing on stage in a white turtleneck and a blue down jacket, Putin spoke for about five minutes. Some people, including presenters at the event, wore T-shirts or jackets with a “Z” — a symbol seen on Russian tanks and other military vehicles in Ukraine and embraced by supporters of the war.
But a key moment which caused widespread speculation among Western pundits came when live video of Putin speaking cut out as he was mid-sentence, and skipped to Putin not being on stage. The Kremlin later called it a “technical glitch” based on a server error.
Western correspondents have claimed that many of the people present are state employees that were bussed in for the event. “They’re watching a video with Ukrainian flags being thrown to the ground,” an FT correspondent said.