Putin hails Russian invasion and ‘reunification’ of Crimea at huge pro-war stadium rally

Thousands of Russians crammed into Moscow’s Luzhniki World Cup stadium

'Russia has not had unity like this for long time' Putin tells crowd

Russian president Vladimir Putin staged a huge flag-waving rally in Moscow, marking the eighth anniversary of the annexation of the Crimea and attempting to prop up support for his ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Thousands of Russians crammed into the capital’s Luzhniki World Cup stadium - which hosted the World Cup final in 2018- and chanted “Russia Russia Russia”, as Mr Putin praised his troops actions in Ukraine.

In a rare public appearance since the invasion started more than three weeks ago, the Russian leader said: “Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other. We have not had unity like this for a long time.”

Mr Putin praised the “special operation” in Ukraine and said the “main purpose” was eradicating “genocide” in the region. He said: “We know what we should do know and how we should do it and we will implement all our plans.”

The crowd sang patriotic songs and was awash with red, blue and white flags and banners, some emblazoned with a white ‘Z’, which has become pro-war symbol in Russia since the conflict started.

The event was about marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine, and reunified with Russia in 2014.

As Russian forces continued their bombardment of major Ukrainian cities, Mr Putin said that Russia and Crimea have a “shared destiny” and praised Sevastopol - a port city in Crimea - for voting in a contested referendum to be part of Russia.

Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around the Luzhniki stadium for the rally and concert

He said: “We are united by the same destiny. This is how the people thought and that’s what they were guided by when they had the referendum in Sevastopol.

“They want to share their historical destiny with their motherland Russia - let us congratulate them on this occasion, it is their occasion. Congratulations.”

The Russian strongman praised the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine

The Russian leader added: “Sevastopol did the right thing when they put up a barrier to neo-Nazis and radicals, which is already happening on other territories.

“[The] people of Donbas also disagreed with this, and straightaway they organised military operations against them.”

People hold a banner with letter Z and saying ‘For Putin!’

As Mr Putin prepared to take the stage, speakers praised him as fighting “Nazism” in Ukraine, a claim that has been widely rejected by Western countries.

Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around the Luzhniki stadium for the rally and concert.

People wave Russian flags during a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea

The event included well-known singer Oleg Gazmanov singing Made In The USSR, with the opening lines “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, It’s all my country.”

The event also prompted confusion, when Russian state television suddenly cut away from Mr Putin hailing what Russia calls its special operation in Ukraine and the bravery of its soldiers, to show patriotic songs being played at the event instead.

In one strange moment Russian state television suddenly cut away from Mr Putin’s speech

It later aired the full speech, which ended a few seconds after the cutaway with the Russian leader leaving the stage as thousands of spectators waved Russian flags at the 80,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium.

Cited by RIA news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a server glitch had caused the interruption.

It comes as at least 816 civilians have been killed and 1,333 wounded in Ukraine since the conflict, according to the United Nations’ rights office (OHCHR).

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