Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin appeared in a large, flaw-waving rally at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Friday to shower accolades on the forces fighting in Ukraine, three weeks into the invasion that has led to unexpected Russian losses in the battlefield and increasingly authoritarian rule at home.
The rally, which marked the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, was a display of patriotism to show support and approval amid bursts of antiwar protests in Russia.
State servants say that they were directed to take part in the rally. In schools, the teacher held lessons marking the “Crimean Spring” to draw a parallel between Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the 2010 democratic uprisings that toppled dictatorships across the Arab world.
The leader of Russia’s diplomatic talks with Ukraine has said that both sides have narrowed their differences and a diplomatic solution is in sight. Ukraine, however, has not made any comments in this regard.
Friday’s rally in Moscow comes as the Russian troops rain lethal fire in different parts of Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, Lviv and areas close to the Polish border. The Russian troops have been accused of carrying out war crimes, like bombing hospitals, schools, residential buildings, nuclear power plants and other civilian instalments.
“Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other,” the Russian president said of the Kremlin’s forces in a rare public appearance since the start of the war. “We have not had unity like this for a long time,” he added to cheers from the crowd.
“We know what we need to do next, how to do it and at what cost. And we will definitely carry out all the plans we have made”, Putin said.
Seeking to portray the war as just, Putin paraphrased the Bible to say of Russia’s troops: “There is no greater love than giving up one’s soul for one’s friends.”
Telegram channels critical of the Kremlin reported that students and government workers in Moscow were ordered by their superiors to attend the rally marking the anniversary of Crime’s annexation. But these claims are yet to be verified.
Putin’s energetic arrival at the rally marked a relative change from his self-isolation of the past few months. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian president has been shown meeting world leaders and his staff at long tables or via videoconferences.
The invasion of Ukraine prompted a barrage of crushing economic sanctions from the west and invited global condemnation. Kremlin has had to face resistance even at home – the invasion has engendered massive antiwar protests across the country. The government has responded harshly: activists and antiwar protestors have been arrested and beaten up by the police. The government has banned social media services like Facebook and Twitter and instituted tough prison sentences for ‘false reporting’ of the war, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation.”