As many as 200,000 Russians gathered at a rally in Moscow to hear Vladimir Putin’s first speech in public since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium was packed with supporters waving flags and chanting “Russia” as Putin took the stage. The event was officially a celebration of the anniversary of the 2014 annexation of Crimea, but the current war was clearly the subject on everyone’s mind.
Putin shows off support at rally
Western observers insisting that the Russian people will rise up to overthrow Putin’s government any day now have been wildly underestimating the president’s popularity in his own country.
Putin’s approval ratings as president have consistently been much higher than those of either Joe Biden or Donald Trump in the United States. Even allowing for possible manipulation of the polls, Putin is objectively popular.
Approving crowds in Moscow gathered outside the stadium after space ran out inside, many of them holding flags and showing support for the military with the letter “Z.”
It shouldn’t really be any surprise that Russians are patriotic, but some analysts will struggle to reconcile the enthusiastic rally with the narrative that the bulk of the population is brainwashed and ignorant of the war.
The fighting in Ukraine was very much the subject of the rally; performers (including Putin’s favorite band) sang songs praising the military and patriotic duty.
Screens inside the stadium showed footage of Russian soldiers in Ukraine and speakers openly celebrated the invasion and the associated break from the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed the country's "special operation" in Ukraine at a rally marking the anniversary of the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 18, 2022
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Putin’s own speech was obviously intended for Russians; his last address from the Kremlin appeared to be equally aimed at the rest of the world.
At one point he explicitly addressed his remarks to “ordinary citizens” in the West, claiming that Western elites and politicians are acting against their people’s interests and blaming their failures on Russia.
The speech at the rally was intended to maintain public support. He celebrated the annexation of Crimea as a great victory and claimed that the Russian people today are more united than they have been in some time.
He emphasized the plight of ethnic Russians in Ukraine as the justification for the invasion, specifically quoting John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Apparent technical difficulties interrupted the broadcast just before Putin reached the end of his speech; a short time later it was resumed from where it cut out and Putin finished his remarks, briefly being interrupted by chants of “Russia, Russia, Russia” from the audience.
His speech was relatively short and nothing new was announced about the operations in Ukraine. Still, the rally accomplished Moscow’s goal of broadcasting to Russia and the world that Vladimir Putin isn’t hiding from his people in the Kremlin.