Putin holds massive pro-war rally in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to a crowded stadium in Moscow on Friday in an attempt to shore up support for the war in Ukraine, amid Western reports of low morale among Russian frontline soldiers.
The rally took place at Luzhniki Stadium, which hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup final, and was broadcast nationwide on Russian state television.
Putin gave a short speech to what appeared to be a large crowd, repeating false allegations that Ukraine was committing “genocide” against ethnic Russians in the Donbass region and referencing the Bible to drum up support for Russian soldiers, saying: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s soul for one’s friends”, according to the Associated Press.
The event also featured a performance by 70-year-old Russian pop star Oleg Gazmanov, according to AP, who performed his song “Made in the USSR,” which reads: “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova is my whole country.”
Other stagings included a video showing Ukrainian flags thrown to the ground.
Moscow police say 200,000 people gathered in and around the stadium for the event marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, which is internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory.
“We haven’t had such unity for a long time,” Putin told the crowd, according to an AP translation.
Russian forces appear to have advanced much more slowly in Ukraine than Putin expected, according to US intelligence. The war has brought international condemnation of Russia, but the Russian people seem to be largely cut off from outside information. The Kremlin has waged a massive crackdown on independent and Western media in the country in recent weeks and has banned social media platforms like Facebook that may have allowed the dissemination of information contrary to the government’s narrative. But US intelligence officials believe the slow progress and brutality of the war so far could have a major impact on Russian morale. US intelligence estimated earlier this week that more than 7,000 Russian troops had been killed in the first three weeks of fighting, a higher toll than the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Tens of thousands of other Russian soldiers were reportedly injured.
Putin appears at large rally as troops press for attack in Ukraine (Associated Press)
Russia bans Facebook and Twitter (Forbes)