Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, where a patriotic rally and concert on the occasion of Defender of the Fatherland Day was held on February 22, 2023.
Moscow – Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine. The whole nation supports you and is proud of you, Putin said at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, where a patriotic rally and concert on the occasion of Defender of the Fatherland Day was held today. In Russia, it falls on February 23. Putin called on the crowds to chant “Russia, Russia” in support of the defenders of the homeland.
During his short speech, Putin also said that Russia is currently fighting “for its historical territory” in Ukraine. The events at the stadium, which has a capacity of 81,000 seats, were attended by tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags, world news agencies reported. In this context, The Moscow Times wrote that Russian government institutions forced 70 percent of their employees to attend today's concert. Among other things, they promised them hot food and a ration of Russian flags.
Putin appeared on stage together with the participants in the fights in Ukraine. He stated that just before his arrival, he heard a report from the military command about the progress of the operation in Ukraine. According to the Russian president, the fighting is now “within the historical borders of Russia”.
Putin claimed that “all of Russia” supports the fighting Russian soldiers. In the country, however, severe penalties are threatened for anyone who dares to express their disapproval of the war or directly demonstrate against the attack on a neighboring country. Up to 15 years in prison is threatened for “spreading false information” about the actions of the Russian army, while the authorities label as a “lie” anything that deviates from the official line, including mention of suspicions that Russian soldiers are committing atrocities and war crimes in the occupied territories.
“In this sense, today in the defense of our interests, in the defense of our people, in the defense of our culture, language, territory – everyone, the whole nation is a defender of the homeland. I bow deeply to everyone,” Putin said. According to the newspaper Kommersant, he counted everyone who supports the soldiers, from workers in armories to medics to children who write letters to the front. According to him, they are also defenders of the homeland. “When we are united, no one can match us. For the unity of the Russian people!” he exclaimed at the end.
Children from the eastern Ukrainian Donbass, including from Mariupol, which was destroyed during the long Russian siege, also came onto the stage and hugged a Russian soldier who shouted: “We will win!”
Russia is accused of abducting thousands of Ukrainian children from the territory it occupies. Russia denies this, refers to these regions as Russian and claims that it organized completely legal adoptions, AFP wrote.
“Putin did not specify where the fighting is taking place,” ironically noted the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper on its website. He added that the “Russian dictator” had urged the stadium to shout “hooray!” for the unity of the Russian people, but instead of three times – as Putin indicated with a microphone – the stadium shouted only once.
Russia's attack on Ukraine last February 24 unleashed Europe's worst land conflict since the end of World War II, which is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people on both sides and driven millions from their homes. Regardless of these facts, Moscow officially reports its invasion as a special military operation and claims that it wants to “liberate” the Russian-speaking population, “denazify” and “demilitarize” the neighboring state, from which it tried to annex four other regions, similar to what it did in the spring In 2014, in violation of international law, it annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
Currently, Moscow interprets the conflict as the protection of its own security and a clash with the West. Faced with military setbacks – instead of a few days, the war has been going on for a year – Moscow now likens the conflict to an analogue of the Great Patriotic War, as it calls the clash with Nazi Germany during World War II. Kiev and the West talk about unprovoked Russian aggression and the conquest of territory in an imperial style. Kiev set the liberation of all occupied territories as a war goal.