Putin Says Russia Fighting for ‘Historical Lands’ at Pro-War Rally
JI-Moscow. President Vladimir Putin said Russia is fighting for its “historical lands” Wednesday as Russia marks one year of its bloody invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a state-organized concert marking the Defender of the Fatherland Day holiday on Feb. 23 and the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Putin delivered a notably short address to the crowd of tens of thousands.
“I’ve just been hearing from the highest military command that at this very moment there is an ongoing fight on our historical lands, for our people. It is led by similarly brave fighters like the ones standing beside us here right now,” he said.
Putin has repeatedly invoked Ukraine’s past under the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, as well as the ancient Kyivan Rus state, as justification for invading the pro-Western country and claims that the West seeks to threaten Russia’s existence by arming Kyiv.
“Today, defending our interests, our people, our culture, language and territory, our entire nation is the defender of our Fatherland,” Putin said.
“I bow to all of you,” he added.
Following a performance of the national anthem, Putin went on to give handshakes to military personnel on the stage, while the stadium chanted “Russia!”
“When we are together, no one can be our equal. For the unity of the Russian nation!” Putin said, before calling on the crowd to chant “Russia!” again.
Putin’s brief appearance follows Tuesday’s state-of-the-nation address — his first since launching the invasion — where he vowed to keep waging war and blamed the West for allegedly starting hostilities in Ukraine.
Braving subzero temperatures, the attendees at Moscow’s Luznhniki Stadium — one of Russia’s largest sports venues — waved Russian tricolor flags and gave muted applause between performances and speeches.
Most in attendance were employees of government institutions who were forced to attend by their employers.
According to internal correspondence shared with The Moscow Times by a state employee, one Moscow governmental institution forced 70% of its workers to go to the concert.
“I didn’t really want to go to the concert, but at least I’ll visit the stadium, I’ve never been there,” a man in his 50s attending the concert told The Moscow Times.
“To be honest, I think it’s absurd. We have to go and there’s nothing we can do with it. The authorities are using it as a propaganda tool to show off in the eyes of Z-patriots and those who watch TV. I wouldn’t go to the event voluntarily,” said another state employee attending the concert.
The organizers also promised to distribute hot meals and small Russian flags to the visitors.
All concert attendees were subject to stringent security checks upon arrival at the stadium.
Eyewitnesses also spotted a Pantsir missile system being deployed in the vicinity of the stadium on Wednesday, the independent Dozhd television channel reported.
The rally opened with a skit covering centuries of Russia’s imperial conquests, followed by short patriotic speeches from participants of the “special military operation,” the Kremlin’s term for the war in Ukraine.
“This year has been very difficult for us, each one of us got disappointed whether in our relatives or friends,” said Senior Lieutenant Sergei Lomov, who had fought alongside pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and later joined Russian forces in the ongoing invasion, according to the announcers on the stage.
“Ukraine wanted to destroy us and we were forced to take on the weapons to protect our families, children and women,” added Lomov, who appeared on the makeshift stage in the center of the arena on crutches, wearing camouflage attire adorned with a Russian flag.
The event featured multiple performances by pro-Kremlin singers, which were interrupted by frequent technical difficulties.
At one point, a group of children introduced by the concert hosts as “children saved from Mariupol” was brought on stage.
Throughout the war, Russia has been accused of forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russian territory and adopting them into Russian families, a practice that would amount to a war crime.
After introducing the alleged “savior” of as many as 367 children — a soldier named Yuri Gagarin from Russia’s Chelyabinsk region — the hosts handed the microphone to one of the “saved” Ukrainian children.
“Thank you uncle Yura for saving me, my sister and hundreds of thousands of children from Mariupol,” said a visibly uncomfortable and nervous girl before bursting into tears.