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
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas