Putin election rally: All the president's men?

As thousands gather in Moscow, Shaun Walker asks how many were bussed in by the man himself

They came from Moscow, from towns nearby, and from as far away as the Ural Mountains. Tens of thousands of them marched in the snow to show support for Russia's "national leader" yesterday morning, and later over 100,000 gathered to hear the man himself speak. In a robust show of strength that was designed to prove that it is not just the newly-formed opposition that can rally the masses, Vladimir Putin addressed his supporters yesterday at the Luzhniki Stadium, 10 days before presidential elections.

Most of the seats in the 80,000 capacity stadium were full, and thousands swarmed on the football pitch itself, which had been covered with plywood boards. After some warm-up acts – patriotic crooners, tough coal miners, and a war hero pilot – the man himself appeared. On Tuesday, Cristiano Ronaldo had taken to the pitch to play a Champions League tie for Real Madrid against CSKA Moscow. Mr Putin was not to be outdone. In a beige sweater and black overcoat, he bounded along the walkway like a fighter coming out to the ring, giving thumbs-up signs along the way and shaking hands with a few admirers. Arriving at a podium near the centre circle, he launched into a passionate 10-minute speech in which the major themes of his political agenda were crystallised.

"We're here to say that we love Russia, and say it so that the whole country hears us!" As snow fell from a slate-grey sky Mr Putin, who has been Prime Minister for the past four years but now wants to return to the presidency, insisted that he was the only man who could guarantee Russia stability and see off threats from nefarious foreign powers. "We ask everyone not to look abroad, not to run to the other side and not to betray your motherland," said Mr Putin. "We won't allow anyone to meddle in our affairs or impose their will upon us, because we have a will of our own."

"In the 20th-century, Russia lost more people and had more tragedy than any other nation," said Sergei Trofimov, a singer who was one of several supporters to address the crowds before Mr Putin appeared. "We have no right today to allow these people to have been victims for no reason."

It was no coincidence that yesterday was the date chosen for the rally. Formerly Red Army Day, 23 February is now called Defender of the Fatherland Day. There was no question who was meant to be the Defender-in-Chief, as everywhere, the attempt to fuse the concept of Russian statehood and national pride with the figure of Mr Putin was visible. On one side of the Luzhniki's exterior, a vast banner hung that proclaimed: "Our vote is for Putin!" Alongside it were two flags – the Russian tricolour, and the black-orange ribbon that is used to commemorate Russia's war dead.

Many people at the rally were genuine supporters of Mr Putin, but the majority offered lukewarm backing, with many having been bussed in from the regions. Several thousand had arrived on special trains from the Urals. Some said they had been offered a free trip to Moscow and days off in lieu of the time they took to attend the rally. Others from Moscow said they had been "invited" by their bosses to attend, and the majority of the crowd was made up of public servants and those whose jobs depend on state funding.

Most of them were mildly supportive of Mr Putin and said they feared other candidates would destabilise the country. "Putin is a real man, he brought the oligarchs into line and made the world respect Russia again," said 29-year-old Mikhail, from Serpukhov, a small town outside Moscow. "Anyone else could bring chaos." Sergei, a 41-year-old doctor from Moscow, said he had never voted for Mr Putin and would not do so next week – he was planning to vote for the nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky instead.

After Mr Putin had bounded off the stage, the compere attempted to excite the crowds with a rock band that were due to play, but within a couple of minutes, the stadium was half empty.

"It was cool to see Putin live," said Dmitry Pelevin, 34, hurrying out of the stadium towards the metro station. "But I'm freezing now." He said he had not decided yet whether he will vote. However, despite a rising protest movement in recent months, Mr Putin is expected to win with between 50 and 60 per cent of the vote.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower